PUBLIC EDITOR: Social Media should take on a greater role in Cavalier Daily staff’s online engagement

The Social Media team is uniquely positioned to provide professional development for the paper and its staffers

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The Social Media team on the paper could take on the responsibility of providing more guidance to Cavalier Daily staff. 

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As budding media professionals, student journalists often make a concerted effort to create an online persona to demonstrate their own abilities to engage with readers on multiple platforms. For example, during my time as News Editor of The Cavalier Daily two years ago, my co-editor and I required our writers to have a Twitter account to actively share their work and engage with other journalists. The Social Media team on the paper could take on the responsibility of providing more guidance to Cavalier Daily staff for the professional development of the paper at-large and the individual members. 

I want to note that former Public Editor Candace Carter also wrote on this absence of guidelines, but I have yet to see steps taken towards this goal of advancing staffers’ online engagement. 

Social Media could formalize guidelines on The Cavalier Daily staff’s social media pages. One absolute rule with The Cavalier Daily is that any staff member — with the exception of Opinion, Humor and Cartoon staffers — cannot endorse any candidate for student elections. This is due to the paper releasing its own endorsement.

At the Washington Post, “ journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything —  including photographs or video — that could objectively be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism.” The New York Times social media guidelines advises reporters that “everything we post or ‘like’ online is to some degree public,” even when it comes to private Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Instagram accounts and Snapchats. 

The question here is how does a student journalist fit into this? Some student journalists may be interested in policy and use their experiences on a student newspaper to write about and get closer to their interest. Others may aim to be professional journalists someday. To what degree should student journalists opt to model themselves after professional journalists, if at all?

It is difficult to straddle the divide between “student” and “journalist.” The unfortunate truth is that everything we publish online is somehow preserved — if a student journalist aims to someday become a professional journalist, a partisan tone could deeply affect their careers. The safest social media guidelines The Cavalier Daily could take would be to scrub partisan tones from all social media like New York Times’ guidelines suggest. This may be more salient with the news and focus writers who may write about political issues as they relate to the University. 

My ultimate recommendation would be that Cavalier Daily news writers should avoid political content on Twitter where they may be publicizing their own stories and actively promoting themselves  as Cavalier Daily staff members. The Social Media section should begin making an effort of being stringent on this front and clearly defining the expectations in place for Cavalier Daily writers. 

Facebook is trickier — it is less of a tool for budding media professionals. It blurs the line more between “student” and “journalist” because it can be more of a means of connecting with other students on a personal level. While I do not pretend to have definitive answers as to how writers should proceed here, this is an area of social media where The Cavalier Daily should be conscious. 

I foresee this going into effect by the Social Media section drafting a document of guidelines for writers who elect to use Twitter pages to identify themselves as Cavalier Daily writers and develop their professional personas online. These guidelines could include simple rules such as including disclaimers like “RT≠E” and “views are my own” in Twitter bios, but they can include more complex issues such as the expectations that The Cavalier Daily has for their writers online on partisanship and professionalism. For example, Social Media can advise writers to avoid even “liking” tweets with profanity or inappropriate content because those are publicly visible on profiles. 

“You just have to maintain that professionalism because someone can look you up at any time,” current Assistant Managing Editor and former Social Media Manager Ashley Botkin said. “In the long run, it’s going to be more important for you to have that professional tool than for you to remember some funny tweet from 2015.”

According to Social Media Manager Libby Scully, the Social Media section has already floated the idea of hosting workshops for writers. A combination of this approach and easily-accessible resources for writers may be best. Providing resources on social media engagement would provide Cavalier Daily writers and the Social Media staff with the tools necessary to succeed in having a uniform front online. 

Anna Higgins is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at a.higgins@cavalierdaily.com

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