The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial. The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy. It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.
It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees. In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:
The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.
Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.
Think of this in terms of a classroom debate. A teacher poses a question. A few students argue for one side, other students argue another. The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right? In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.
It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers. But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate? Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?