Wick Communications

Don’t be a twit

In Writing techniques on December 27, 2012 at 9:22 pm

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I want to recommend Jeff Sonderman’s very good rundown of the dangers of public interview requests over Twitter. The platform can be a wonderful way to learn the latest in an evolving news story and to elicit information in the wake of something like the shootings in Newtown, Conn. But beware: Your tweets, unless direct messages, are available for all to see. And, as Sonderman points out, they short-circuit the normal human interaction that has governed reporter and source relations since the dawn of the press.

As an example, Sonderman points to Nadine Shubailat, a producer for ABC News. In the immediate wake of the Newtown shootings, Shubailat read a tweet from someone under the handle @artayd2 claiming to be friends with a kindergartener at Sandy Hook. She took that as an opportunity and tweeted “@artayd2 can we talk to your friend who lives in Sandy Hook and whose daughter goes to kindergarten? I’m w ABC News” and then gave her email address. Shubailat wasn’t alone. At least one New York Times reporter tried a similar tactic. And both were lambasted publicly over the Internet. …

Former Review intern Ryan Mac is now a staff writer for Forbes magazine. He sent me the Sonderman link and said it reminded him of one of his assignments while at the Review. He had been a newspaper reporter for all of about one month when I sent him out to cover the death of a woman and her 5-year-old child. Both were literally swept off their feet while wading on a local beach. Strong waves and an undertow took their lives. Their bodies were recovered somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Mac says he remembers talking to the husband and father of the victims the next day and that it remains the hardest thing he’s ever had to do as a reporter. The truth is, anyone who have been in the business a while has a story like that. It is never easy to seek out grieving relatives. But, as Sonderman suggests, there is a delicate “more right” way to do it.

Forget social media. OK, don’t forget it. You are free to monitor it and to seek out people who come forward that way. And, of course, you should broadcast your resulting stories over those channels. But don’t issue a blanket call for victims. Come on. Use your head.

Be professional, but be human first. A little empathy goes a long way. Often people want to talk at times when you might think otherwise. I generally try to find a brother or an aunt – someone from the extended family in crisis.

This is a brave new world of social media. So be brave. Try a little tenderness and reach people on a human level that doesn’t end in a dot.com address.

Clay

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