Earlier this month, Harry Deitz, the chief editor at the Reading Eagle, a Pennsylvania paper I interned with this summer, wrote a column explaining to readers the blurry ethical implications of the daily’s reporters’ professional Facebook pages.
It’s easy to see why Deitz found value in writing this column. The mid-sized paper has about 7,000 followers on Facebook. Their night-time police reporter, Jason Kahl, has nearly 5,000.
How has one reporter garnered such a following? The city of Reading, Pennsylvania, has significantly high crime rates, and as a result much of the paper’s coverage revolves around the violence and drug-related happenings in the area. Kahl, who launched his Facebook professional page in June of this year, has become known for avidly updating the page as crime stories develop. He also interacts with his fans constantly and casually.
While I was interning at the paper I’d often hear conversations concerning what crossed the line when it came to Kahl’s posts on Facebook. The debates were over many things, such as what developing news could be posted before it ran in print or online.
“We have been facing the challenge of determining what is appropriate to post and what is not. We have standards for our print editions that often are not in line with these social media sites,” Deitz wrote in his column. “With our print products, we avoid rumors, we usually wait for official information and we refrain from sensationalizing. With online social sites, it’s so easy to post an offhand comment.”
Now the Reading Eagle has begun to monitor these pages to ensure that the quality and appropriateness of its reporters’ social media posts parallels that of the paper. One of the copy editors has been assigned the duty of doing so, as well as analyzing and removing questionable posts.
I can only imagine that this is also happening at other papers across the nation. My assumption is that publications will begin to incorporate “rules for the web” sections to their ethics codes. After all, this ongoing debate is one of significant impact for the future of news– once something is online there’s no going back.