We need to stop pretending that the answer to the Internet culture is having two personas — journalist as separate from real person. It doesn’t fool anyone, and it serves only to make us believe we’re still able to work under the boundaries we’ve traditionally set for ourselves.
If we value community, and our role in it as journalists, we’ve got to approach conversation with authenticity.
I’ve written before about what I’ve learned from small-town news. One key lesson is that, when you truly know a community and they truly know you, you don’t put on different hats in different situations. Your readers are your neighbors, and you don’t have the luxury of sharing different slices of yourself with different groups of people.
You can choose to be relatively private or in-your-face public about your views and your life. But the way you behave in person is how you should behave online. And the way you behave as an individual is how you should behave as a journalist.
We’re so scared to be human. A student actually asked me last week if she should respond to a negative comment on a story she wrote. My response was to ask how she’d respond if the person had come up to her in the grocery store with the same criticism. Unless the person is abusive or ridiculously rude, you wouldn’t just walk away.
That doesn’t just work in small towns. Check out the guidelines The Guardian gives its journalists. Please. Seriously.
Clarification added July 5: I don’t mean that journalists should never have more than one account. If you have distinct audiences and want to cultivate them separately, go for it. But let’s not pretend we can be real people, with real opinions, in one public social media space, and detached, “unbiased” professionals (or academics) on another. (And as an aside, can we stop pretending that any of us don’t have biases?)