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On watching for damaging tweets and the demise of newspapers

You can’t help but be drawn to a headline like this: “The Future of News Has Nothing To Do With Newspapers”

The headline, and the ensuing post, can be found on the Huffington Post’s relatively new technology page.

The author is Daniel Lyons, who writes a blog under the pseudonym, Fake Steve Jobs. In the post/rant, the FSJ argues that technology has outpaced the ability of journalists—particularly newspaper journalists—to provide content that will support the cool technology being developed for the media. His comments are based on the buzz swirling around Apple’s Tablet, a rumored product designed to provide newspaper and other content on a cool portable device. Here is a Mashable article on the Tablet. Keep in mind that Apple has not confirmed the Tablet exists. But that did not stop FSJ.

“We’re talking about an entirely new way to convey information, one that incorporates dynamic elements (audio, video) with static elements (text, photos) plus the ability for the audience to become content creators, not just content consumers.

“The funny thing is that the publishing guys still refer to themselves (as) the “creative” side of the business—even though they’re probably the least creative people I’ve ever met.”

Of course, there is a kernal of truth in FSJ’s diatribe. Newspapers, and journalists in general, are struggling to create information in a variety of new forms that will attract large numbers of readers/viewers/tweeters as well as advertisers.

Now consider the controversy over the Washington Post’s social media guidelines release recently. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz relays a reasonable list of requirements for the social media activities of Post reporters.

Kurtz quotes from the standards: “When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. . . .

“Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”

Kurtz is right, of course, when he describes these limitations as “reasonable.” Most journalists would not want to compromise their credibility through an ill-worded tweet. Put in that light, none of us would. In this blog, I represent my employer, Dix & Eaton. It would be careless and foolish of me to write something that would reflect poorly on myself, or the firm.

So why the debate over the Post’s restrictions?

Journalists use the new technology of social media to spread information quickly, to seek out new sources, to supplement their work in print or on a Web site and to interact with readers. As simple as this sounds, the dynamics can become complicated. And, as Kurtz points out, media ethics must be maintained.

But the angst also is indicative of newspaper’s unease with social media. And that feeds FSJ’s frustration.

As he writes in the Huffington Post: “My guess is that the truly revolutionary content is not going to come from the old-guard publishers. It’s going to come from new guys, kids who have grown up digital….

“Somewhere out there, a genius is waiting to be discovered—the Orson Welles of digital media, someone who will create an entirely new language for storytelling.”

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