Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twitter for journalism: Is there a line?

This week I was working on a story about a high school athlete at one of the schools I cover. It was an athlete I had talked with and written about before and we followed each other on Twitter. We'd communicated various times on there.

So when I needed to get the student on the phone quickly at the end of the week before my story was due, I used Twitter. I said I'd like to talk if the student had a chance. The student sent me a cell phone number. We talked for maybe 10 minutes for the story.

An official at the school found out what I had done and called me on Friday. This is a school that likes you to go through administration or coaches before you talk to students, which I normally do. But when I was looking to get in touch with the athlete quickly, I used the best way I knew how.

The official wasn't mad at me, per se. It was more curiosity: Are other journalists talking to students this way? Is this something the school should be watching out for? Does the newspaper have a policy about contacting student athletes?

I understand the concern. The school doesn't want a journalist talking to a young kid who says something he/she shouldn't. But as a journalist, I'm going to use the best and quickest way to get in touch with a source that I can and social media makes that very easy sometimes. And the student agreed to talk to me.

I talked to one of my editors and he agreed with me. Even before social media, we would get students cell phone numbers to call them with questions about stories. If they agreed, we had no problem using them.

So here's the question: When it comes to high school students, should there be rules in how you should be able to contact them?

If a student-athlete I cover has an unprotected Twitter account, is there anything wrong with me following it?

Should schools (high schools or colleges) have policies that force journalists to go through certain channels to talk with students? If the student agrees to talk outside of those channels, should the journalist be punished?

Take this case study from last year at the University of Kentucky, when a journalist with the student paper approached two walk-on basketball players directly for an interview. The publication was banned from an upcoming press conference.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


  1. No problem in my eyes except for the fact the the school seems to be behind the times. Any good organization, business, school etc should be aware of Social Media as a form of communications The fact that they aren't monitoring it is their own fault.

  2. Brad - I was a bit surprised by that, too. They have an athletics Twitter account, so they use it, but don't monitor it. Thanks for the comment!