17 November 2008

Should Journalists Facebook Their Sources?

Is it appropriate for journalists to include sources among their friends on social media sites such as Facebook?

That’s the question posed by a recent American Journalism Review article, where reporters in the US were interviewed to find out whether social networking websites are altering the “traditional reporter-source relationship”.

According to the article’s author Steven Mendoza, few journalists have been issued with guidelines about adding sources such as public officials to their friends lists on Facebook.

And from his enquiries, it seems that there are some differences between the stances taken by American newsrooms.

For example, Sacramento Bee columnist Stuart Leavenworth said he keeps friend requests from public figures on a waitlist.

“I just personally felt more comfortable keeping it somewhat limited.

“As a journalist in this town, I really wanted to keep a little bit of distance from public officials and other sources I deal with on a regular basis.”

However, New York Times standards editor Craig Whitney contested it’s generally understood that Facebook friends are not necessarily friends in the non-virtual world.

“If it is truly a friend, then the old guideline that you have a conflict of interest if you’re writing about somebody who is a personal friend certainly applies.

“But being a friend on Facebook doesn’t make that person into a real friend.”

See the full article - To Friend or Not to Friend? - on the American Journalism Review site.

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