Professionalism on social media

NBCU Academy 101

Journalists use social media as networking tool, both professionally and personally. Nina Sen, Director of News Standards – Race, Class, Gender for NBC News, explains how journalists can remain professional and authentic online.

Social media is a huge part of journalism, and it can be a great tool to connect to sources, grow your audience and dig for stories. Like any storytelling medium, you want to hone your voice by creating the right content for your audience. Like any other news platform, your social media presence should reflect professionalism and journalistic integrity. 

How do we put those two things together without getting lost in all the social noise? Staying away from social media might seem like the easy way, but that won’t build your skills as a journalist.  

Decide what platform works for you. Twitter may seem like the obvious choice, but if you’re a photojournalist you might find better success on Instagram. If you’re in local news, the power of connecting your personality on TikTok may bring success.  

It’s crucial to figure out what makes you authentic and stick to it. Your professionalism is tied to your authenticity and credibility. Does that mean if you’re a political reporter you can never talk about a bad vacation experience? No, of course not. But it does reflect a cardinal rule of life: If you can’t say something worthwhile, don’t say nothing at all.

Before you post, think about:

·       Whether what you wrote needs to be said.
·       Whether it’s the right time to say it.
·       Whether you are the right person to say it. 

Journalists always seek to minimize harm while holding power and people accountable. Will what you say be seen as personal advocacy or opinion in a divisive time? Is it coming purely from an emotional reaction? Does it involve critical or embarrassing information that isn’t newsworthy? 

What you say on social media has wide reach and you should stick to the exact same parameters as when you’re reporting on a news story. There’s no place in journalism to cut corners on fact-checking, transparency, fairness or sourcing. Could you take what you’re writing and put it right into a story? Is it clear, fair and have you thought through the wording? 

What shouldn’t you do on social media?

·       Name-calling
·       Personal attacks
·       Bickering

Riling people up or posting “hot takes” can often be seen as trolling. Journalists need to be a force for sharing the voices of others. You can always be honest about your identity and allyship, but remember that people use their own experiences to shape their world. Any person posting behind a keyboard is more than their online persona. When you disagree with someone, resist the temptation to respond in anger.

Most importantly, take a beat. It’s OK to have someone look over a tweet before you send it out. It’s also OK to feel like you’re swimming upstream considering the amount of misinformation out there. It’s OK to step back if you feel overwhelmed.