Editing Our Communities

At a recent social media discussion I led at The Ledger earlier this week, a participant told me about how he quoted a well-known wrestler’s Twitter post on his blog and asked me what my take on that was. The wrestler was posting about the earthquake in Haiti and his English was, of course, not proper but mostly in Internet shorthand. His question was two-fold: 1. Can he quote a personality without express permission and 2. Was it proper for him to do so, unedited?

I told him that if the Twitter account was public (it was) and the person writing it was a celebrity who was used to dealing with the media (he was) then quoting the gentleman was fine. One thing that journalists shouldn’t do is use their interactions on social media networks to gain quotes from an unsuspecting public — most news organizations require journalists to be upfront about their position at the news organization and be honest about how a quote or action may appear published. This duty increases as a person is less likely to know about how the media works and its importance diminishes as we start to deal with people who have regular contact with the media.

This is basically to avoid a sense of violating trust. No one wants to be having a conversation that they believe is between two people (even if everyone can read it) and then see it on the news that evening. While many people put details of their private lives online, they usually do so under the impression that only people who know them personally and have a vested interest in them will see that information. Even if that idea of privacy is unfounded, journalists are often the targets of disdain when they publish what the public considers personal information.

The second question is a bit harder to answer. Journalists have long cleaned up direct quotes to avoid making someone sound stupid or uneducated but tend to stop cleaning things up the more famous the speaker is (the difference being, I assume, because people have a right to know how their elected officials really sound — although the likelihood that the original quote will appear on television while a cleaned up quote appears in the newspaper and embarrasses the paper’s editors is also a very real problem.

In the end, the managing editor and I agreed that the writer did the right thing by quoting the wrestler verbatim. When coming from the medium of Twitter, most people would understand why he would have chosen shorthand to convey his message and as long as the thought is readable, the message is more important than the way it was written.

In a slightly related note, Jeff Jarvis recently wrote on the Business Insider (and The Faster Times) about The Importance of “Editing” Your Customers. The part of the article I really found interesting was:

I have told editors at newspapers that, as aggregators and curators, they will begin to edit not just the work of their staffs but the creations of their publics. But that goes only so far; it sees the creations of that public as contributions to what we, as journalists, do.

While Jarvis’ article did have to do with Twitter, it didn’t have to do with editing Twitter comments but how the Twitter creators have edited the way that users use the system. Many of the standard Twitter conventions, such as the RT functionality and the hashtag were user created and then adopted and formally developed by Twitter.

In a way, this is how Jarvis thinks media organizations will begin to work. If we give our readers (and our communities) the tools and training to engage in meaningful community journalism, we’ll be able to take that contribution and edit it into a cogent piece of a coherent overview.

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