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Journalists and the Ethics of Social Media for Gen Z

Let’s talk about social media. I’m on it, you’re on it, we’re both probably addicted to it at this point. However as a journalist there are certain questions and limitations when it comes to social media presence. Should journalists be allowed to have personal accounts? Can journalists stay objective on personal social media? Can they stay professional? Do news organizations have the right to prohibit journalists from having their own socials?

One of the main components of this conversation is that news organizations wish to remain impartial on issues. The New York Times commented on this conflict when they posted their social media guidelines for journalists on their website. These rules make sure to include that “journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation”. They also make sure to include in their guidelines that journalists must treat others with “respect” on social media.

While some people believe journalists should stay completely neutral on social media, others such as NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen think the times are changing. He states that “the grounds are slowly shifting” and that more readers want to know the personal beliefs of the reporters they trust.

Social media and 21st century journalism go hand in hand, but it is also hard to not consider the personal lives of journalists who have grown up with social media and have long histories of their beliefs documented on Twitter and Instagram. I have had an Instagram and Twitter account since I was 12 years old, and no matter how I try to scrub it clean, some of my cringier tweets will never be truly gone (I was a huge One Direction fan and I’m not ashamed).

Many Gen Z journalists and creatives are struggling to find the balance between using social media for friends and family, and having to shift their accounts for career purposes. Caitlyn Phu, a TV writing student at Chapman says that she is not trying to water her account down but rather brand herself as a “chaotic” creative. She told me that she “tweets almost every interesting thought [she] has” rather than carefully craft each post.

Finding a way to strike a balance between being personal and being professional is very difficult. While news organizations do have the right to monitor the political opinions of their reporters, there are some grey areas on social media. Below, I’ve embedded some of the weirder things I’ve tweeted about on my personal account. They are not inflammatory or political, but they aren’t exactly professional. The fear of personality being censored is the reason many young journalists, including myself, will probably rely on separate social media accounts to protect the presence we have been creating for many years and to remain professional as career-readiness is essential.

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