09 October 2007

MySpace ‘Becoming Key Tool For Reporters’

Social networking site MySpace is providing investigative journalists with ideal opportunities to learn more about their subjects, according to an expert.

Brant Houston from the University of Illinois has asserted that the website is growing in popularity as a research tool among reporters.

Houston told American Journalism Review: “You're going to see investigative journalists in particular take a look at these pages to see whatever kind of personal profile can be drawn from them.

“It certainly builds the portfolio in understanding someone, who they are and what their interests are.”

However, the Chair in investigative and enterprise journalism cautioned that traditional ethical considerations still apply when gathering information from personal pages displayed on the internet.

“MySpace pages will sometimes have personal information, the kind that you might come across in a court document.

“Even though it's totally public, or potentially open to the public, it might be of such sensitivity that you don’t want to be the journalist who promulgates it because it has nothing to do with the story.”

Further details on this story can be found at ajr.org.



At 12/10/07 11:53 am, Anonymous Mr Bean said...

What is your view on a newspaper reporter using something like Facebook to gather the initial info - then emailing a peron's friends to ask for details. Should editors take an ethical stance on 'intruding' into these people's lives?

At 16/10/07 4:37 pm, Blogger Jane B. Singer said...

Hi, Mr. Bean! Nice to see you here again. Thanks for writing.

I think the people using such sites as Facebook and MySpace tend to feel that they're only talking with their friends. But they're not. The fact is that they are publishing information (often including some rather amazing photos, at least in the case of some of my students!) about themselves that can be viewed by millions of other people ... employers, parents, romantic partners -- anyone. Yes, including journalists. These are not private spaces, and they should not be thought of as such.

That said, it would be ethical for a journalist to let sources (and readers/viewers/users) know where the premise for particular questions or even story lines comes from. That seems to me to be an issue of transparency -- particularly with "ordinary" people rather than media-savvy sources, we shouldn't be in the "gotcha" game. So while I don't necessarily think using information from Facebook, etc., is intrusive or invasive by itself, I do think explaining to our sources what led us to them is appropriate.

What do you think?



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