It’s been so easy to whip up on the Washington Post for its new social media policy imposed in the wake of a top editor revealing political opinions on a protected Twitter account (since closed).
Certainly it could be a teaching moment for a once-great newsroom that, like so many others, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. But these new dictates likely will have the opposite effect:
“All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens. Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website.”
Indeed, the frenzy of ritual asceticism that inhabits so-called mainstream media outlets reveals a professional tribe so afraid to dare to be human that even those educating their successors scratch their heads:
“Why am I, a professor of journalism, encouraged to blog, tweet, and engage in public dialog about journalism, but still trusted to speak the ‘truth,’ while journalists are not? Why am I not required to ‘relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens’ in order to do my job well? Why am I allowed to get up in front of a classroom everyday and teach youngsters how to ‘do journalism,’ while journalists themselves have to give up some of the personal privileges of private citizens? What is it about journalistic professionalism that demands the monk-like embrace of personal rectitude?”
Perhaps I haven’t been gone long enough from the culture of the newsroom to believe that it’s fine to say whatever the hell we like once we leave the confessional booth of transparency. Revealing everything — including how journalists vote on a secret ballot — is just as absurd as being “antisocial mannequins.” This strikes the right tone as far as I’m concerned:
“I think a smart reporter or writer won’t say things that would damage his or her credibility, either on Twitter or anywhere else.”
All I know for certain is this: The zeal that editors still employ to tell their staffers “no” is hardly a good thing at a time when they need to be finding more encouraging, creative ways to say “yes” more often.
Instead of dealing with the “offending” editor individually (some think he did nothing wrong), the Post has imposed guidelines that, while reasonable in some places, effectively add a new level of fear and intimidation for a depleted staff to absorb. This is so fourth grade: Somebody makes a mistake, and everyone else is punished.
While their newsrooms continue to hemorrhage talent and passion, editors treat their underlings like children. This has gone far beyond the frequent (and annoying) reminders I got in my former newsroom about the evils of slapping a political bumper sticker on my car.
Editors are so worried of perceptions of bias that they are oblivious to the effects of constantly saying “no” — to their reporters, and to the public they claim to be informing. Saying “no” stifles innovation, creative thinking and initiative. Saying “no” inhibits those still on hand to step beyond the artificial boundaries of “impartiality” when it means getting to the truth.
Above all, saying “no” drains journalists — and the journalism they create — of the personality and vitality that’s disappearing along with news holes.
But the neutering of newsrooms is a very hard habit to break, and it will continue as long as there are even a few souls who inhabit them.
What a waste of time and energy to tiptoe with trepidation around the future instead of stepping firmly into it.