How should journalists use Facebook?

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Senior journalists tell me that in the “good old days” of regional news, people used to walk into the office and refuse to leave until a reporter had taken down all the details of their story. Now when a resident of Southampton feels they have a tale to tell to their friendly local TV news team, they tend to post a note on the company’s Facebook wall.

This is not a phenomena that is limited to regional news. The World Have Your Say status updates are a regular part of my Facebook feed, soliciting comments on a diverse range of stories from around the world. The problem I have is that since I was 19 I have used Facebook for my social life.

Now while I believe that my work colleagues are interested in hearing all about my recent engagement, I don’t think the romantic details are necessarily something to share with a Meridian Tonight viewer.

So what options are available to a broadcaster;

  1. Completely ignore Facebook – A few friends of mine have taken this option refusing to use the site for any sort of work or social interaction. The problem is that Facebook is quickly becoming the friend you tell news to. Charities use it for fundraising, politicians reach out to voters through ‘Like’ pages and if anything news worthy happens in their area then people turn to Facebook to share that story. The other problem is that Facebook is evolving all the time so if you don’t use it regularly, when you do need to use it you don’t know how. Often the families of victims post tributes on Facebook hours before they are officially released, but if you don’t know how to use the software then you lose the story.
  2. Set up a professional Facebook account and a private Facebook account – Most journalists will say the unwritten rule of a good contacts book is to be friends with your sources first and foremost. That’s not to say that your Facebook friends will divulge confidential information to you on a whim, but if they know you as a human being they are more likely to help you. Professional accounts tend to be used for promoting professional work, which is useful and interesting but not very human.
  3. A mixed profile with varied privacy settings – By far the trickiest to maintain as it involves negotiating Facebook’s ever-changing privacy rules, you add friends to your profile and also add friends in the newsroom but restrict your individual status updates. The rule to stick to is if they are your friends in a newsroom then you can add them on Facebook, but if you consider them to be your colleagues they are best added to your Linked In profile.
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