Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

HA! May I say I told you so?

with 2 comments

Remember when, at some point this spring, I stood in Fisher Auditorium in front of probably 100-something kids in the J4450 reporting class and led with Lucinda Housley a discussion about the dangers of making political statements on Facebook? I was surprised then to see how few of our young reporters considered political affiliation, online or otherwise, to be an issue.

I will have the same “ethics moment” this fall (editors permitting), and this time I will have ammunitions.

This MSNBC article, featured in Romanesko this morning and pointed out on the MizzouMafia listserv and dozens of blogs, lists more than 140 journalists who have donated to parties or political causes, and most are not apologizing for it. The article makes two points: the first is, “what were they thinking?” The article is clear enough on that point and plenty of people, undoubtedly smarter than me, have blogged about it, so I’ll let you just read the story. In fact, the article is so clear that it sounds a bit vindictive. Bill Dedman is clearly enjoying scolding his peers. Was he not popular in J school? Or is he so afraid to sound soft on his fellow journalos that he’s going for the other extreme? Most likely, Dedman, a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter, is just really pissed that this handful of ‘journalists’ are making a bad name for the rest of the profession. Can’t blame him.

The second point was made only in passing, but it is one of those things I feel strongly about, so bear with me. It is about the power of political statements made on Facebook or other online communities. When Calvert Collins, a 2004 Mizzou J grad and Fox reporter in Omaha whom some of you may know, posted on her Facebook profile a picture of her in a strapless top clearly invading the personal space of Democratic congressional candidate Jim Esch, she probably didn’t think much about it. And when she wrote below the picture “Vote for him Tuesday, Nov. 7!” (note the perfect use of AP style), she probably thought it was “just for her friends,” as many 4450’ers told me this spring.

She certainly must have not expected to see the photo reused on Or on this blog, which noticed the questionable picture back in October. On this blog right here, and here, too. On my friend Arlene’s Facebook posted items and my friend Tina’s intern blog at the Houston Chronicle. Oh, and right here, just below.

The infamous Facebook picture of journalist Calvert Collins and candidate Jim Esch

Collins may have plenty of valid excuses. For one, I can’t believe she did this intentionally. As plugged in as our generation is (Collins can hardly be more than two or three years older than me), we still have fairly little experience with the consequences of all our online musings. God knows, last week, I lost a few nights’ sleep over the possible repercussions of my blabbing about the Sentinel job cuts. Still, I couldn’t keep my fingers from typing.

What’s more, Collins and Esch were apparently friends. She told Omaha City Weekly News Watch that she asked her news director at the time not to assign her to stories involving Esch. I’m not really aiming to bash Calvert Collins. A quick Google search shows she does get a lot of crap for a lot of things on the Webosphere, but being a local TV figure, I’m not surprised. She could be the best journalist and still get called out every day. Another post will come soon about her because I am finding out a lot. She’s probably just unlucky to have been the one to get caught when I can off the top of my head name at least 10 journalists who have Facebook profiles I deem unethical. Still, posting such a photo: stupid. Letting people know who you’re going to vote for: stupid. Having your dad pay campaign contributions in your name: stupid.

Objectivity, as much as it is humanly possible, is a golden rule of journalism, especially in the U.S. And believing you’re objective isn’t enough; your audience has to believe it, too. So the moral of the story is… well, there are plenty (and I already have two or three other posts forming in my head), but let’s start with “Don’t write everything you think online.” You wouldn’t do it in the paper, don’t do it on Facebook.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Thursday, 21 June, 2007 at 21:32

Posted in Ethics, Journos, Web 2.0

2 Responses

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  1. And no posting of that WP Compass on your facebook profile. No, no, no, and no.


    Friday, 22 June, 2007 at 07:07

  2. I emailed that story as soon as I saw it to the entire editors’ team. Def. an ethics moment and how embarrassing.


    Thursday, 28 June, 2007 at 04:41

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