Hankins: The Web Puts ‘A Journalist in Every Room’

Arkansas Business President and Publisher (and Twitterer!) Jeff Hankins talks social media and the Interwebs in his Arkansas Business column this week. The idea? How the Web — with its Tweets and Facebooks and blogs and whatnots — have made us all journalists and transformed life into a place where nothing is ever off the record (right, Kim Hendren?).

Trouble is, Hankins says, not all of these new citizen journalists know about the rules of journalism — on the record vs. off the record, libel, correcting erroneous reports quickly and publicly — making it incumbent upon businesses and others in the public eye to be more aware of the power of the Web.

Leaks of confidential information and general marketing nightmares can develop and spread fast and freely. We already see this happening almost daily for politicians.

We’re all living in a fishbowl for the world to see because it’s not just mainstream journalists you have to worry about anymore. It’s the Twitterer next to you at a restaurant, the blogger at the airport, the texting booster at your private athletic club meeting or the disgruntled former employee who just posted anonymously to a message board about the company layoffs.

How exactly do businesses, government and individuals deal with the prevalence of social media eyes and ears? Hankins doesn’t say. Many companies — including media entities — are developing in-house social media and Internet policies for employees to follow. These guidelines give clear limits about how employes blog, tweet, make Facebook friends and generally interact on the Web.

Meanwhile, PR professionals and agencies might counsel clients that everything is always on the record, even at events in which the client might not be appearing in a professional capacity. Anytime to you say something to a group a people, you’re putting information out there — information that might eventually find its way onto the Web. You might as well behave as if a Tolbert Flip cam is in the room, because chances are, it or something like it might be.

But is it fair that we now live in such an open, always-under-the-microscope society? Don’t people and companies have a right to “off the record” or private statements?

They might have that right, but as Hankins points out, it’s growing increasingly more difficult to exercise it. He notes that

social media have far more freedom and protection under Internet content laws. You can go online and say just about whatever you want about any person or any company in anonymity without much fear of litigation or other repercussions.

And until that changes, the best policy might be “watch what you say.”

More

The ArkStFan blog responds to other points in Hankins’ column, noting that examples Hankins cites of erroneous info spreading on the Web were first reported by “mainstream” media, not those pesky Web-heads.

Blake Rutherford reminds us of this column he wrote for Arkansas Business on online reputation management.* Of course!

And, Rutherford also responds to Hankins’ column in a new post here. Noted: “People have been spreading rumors, lies and embarrassing details about friends, family members, colleagues and adversaries long before the Internet was contemplated. Don’t be foolish enough to believe this is a by-product of the World Wide Web.” Lots of comments, including from Natalie Ghidotti and Neal Gladner, here.

(* Link fixed. You can now access this article for free.)

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2 Responses

  1. Bah, Blake’s column has moved into pay status or was already there.

    I’d like to see more sites go pay. It would cut down the competition for AdSense dollars.

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