Archive for December, 2013

German freelance journalist Daniel Bröckerhoff produces stories for ZAPP, the NDR network magazine show about the media, and for the einsplus talk-show “Klub Konkret.”  He’s also very active on Twitter and Facebook, where he enthusiastically engages with his viewers and readers.  It would be hard for anyone to foster such a lively presence in social media without stepping on a few toes here and there.  But for journalists, who are often held to a higher standard, the challenge of social media is even trickier.  Mr. Bröckerhoff recently confronted this question in two blog posts.  I’ve translated the second one here; my translation of the first one is linked below in context.

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Posted on Dec. 11, 2013, in HP-Features, Media

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“Are you really there on your personal time, or for business?” someone recently asked me on Twitter, as I reported live from a #lampedusahh-demonstration.  I had to think for a minute.  I didn’t know.  And I’ve been having that problem more and more often online.

My last article on the question “Publish or Investigate?” prompted a fair amount of discussion.  Opinions varied widely:  from “Dude, that’s just not right” all the way to “Don’t make such a fuss, no big deal.”

Who am I here, really?

The truth can probably be found somewhere in between, as is so often the case.  But in my view it has quite a bit to do with another problem:  Do I always function on the Internet as a freelance journalist, or is there also the private individual Daniel Bröckerhoff?

So the problem is important to me, because there are different expectations for those two people.  The freelance journalist has to measure up to the standards that apply to a journalist.  The private individual can run roughshod over legal technicalities and doesn’t have to worry so much about source-checking, terms, and relevance.

Desk

My workplace for today: my kitchen table. Is this private now, or professional?

You excuse a private individual when she passes on a fabricated Paris Hilton tweet.  A journalist should avoid that at all costs.

Which expectations are contrived?

I’m certainly very active on the Internet, using it both professionally and personally, and as a freelancer it’s very hard for me to say when I’m working and when I’m on my own time.

Because:

  • I have no fixed workplace like a salaried person, who can define “free time” and “business” in time and space.
  • I have made a career out of my interests, and so I can’t often say, when I’m reading an article, watching a video, or listening to a report, whether I need it for work or I just find it interesting.
  • I converse online with friends and acquaintances, with complete strangers, with followers and colleagues, and sometimes a combination of all of them.  Much is private in nature, much is professional, but the lines here are blurred as well.

Half known, half nobody

I wouldn’t be afflicted by this problem if I were more of a public figure and every word I said could be weighed carefully.  Then the private person would conceal himself online and hold back, as is the case with many colleagues who are in front of the camera more than I am, in order to avoid negative consequences.

But I’m half famous and half nobody.  With a good 5,700 Twitter followers and over 1,500 Facebook contacts, I have a certain range of influence, though it’s not on par with a Lobo or a Gutjahr.  As an on-air reporter for an Einsplus broadcast I’m on camera, but on a station that almost nobody’s heard of.

You have to get used to it: even a conversation meant to be private can be public on the Internet. (Source: starmanseries on flickr, License: CC BY 2.0)

Do disclaimers help?

But even for journalists who don’t rush into the public eye so much, the question still arises, in my view, whether they are interacting professionally or privately online.  Many manage to protect themselves from the wrath of clients or editors with disclaimers like “Tweets are my private opinion.”

Others, the older ones mostly, draw a clear line and express themselves online exclusively as professional people.  Still others have a second account (a so-called “Rage-Account”), in which they express themselves anonymously.

I don’t think that’s the right solution.

In fact, I put it on a par with the solution that goes, “Always express yourself on the Internet as you’d like to be quoted in the newspaper,” and plead for kindness, objectivity, and balance in our interactions with one another.  But sometimes I’d nevertheless just like to be able to smart off online without signing my own death warrant.

I want to talk online. Not just as a journalist. (Source: anthony kelly on flickr, license: CC BY 2.0)

To be perceived as a person

Because I can only be perceived on the Internet as a person, who has an opinion, defends it, makes mistakes, revises.  Who has good and bad moods, finds things silly or great, who rages or  reassures, who is goofy or serious.

That’s the opportunity that the Internet offers us:  to break out of societal roles.  Not just to be the “serious journalist,” who authoritatively pigeonholes and researches, but also the father, the friend and buddy, the clown, the finger-pointer, the depressed one, the fanboy or the hater.

My hope, therefore:  more understanding for one another — and more transparency and insight.  Or is that too naive?

tldr

I would prefer not have to decide whether I’m on the Internet privately or professionally, because I can hardly separate the two–and don’t want to.

The Quality Dilemma: Publish or Investigate?

Posted: December 22, 2013 in Media
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German freelance journalist Daniel Bröckerhoff produces stories for ZAPP, the NDR network magazine show about the media, and for the einsplus talk-show “Klub Konkret.”   He’s also burnin’ it up on Twitter, where he recently proved that he’s not too vain to take a little criticism.  He then documented the whole exchange in a blog post, which I’ve translated below.  I’ve also translated his follow-up piece, which delves into the rights and responsibilities of journalists who want to have some kind of presence on the Internet.

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Posted on Dec. 9, 2013 in HP-Features, Media

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As a freelance journalist with demands (also on himself) I’m confronting a dilemma:  Get the information out, sometimes without rigorous examination, because I want to be quick, or cut back on my quantity — and thereby risk drawing less attention?

At least two professional mistakes crept into my Twitter feed in the past few days.  They’re not serious, but they bug me.

On Thursday, during the 12-hour #Xaver-Sturm-ICE-Fahrt [ICE train trip during Winter Storm Xaver], I distributed this fake Paris Hilton tweet:

Clearly: a gag. You wouldn’t put it past her, so my skepticism was rather restrained. I looked briefly at the account that posted the tweet, and had little reason to be suspicious.

Briefly suspicious, but too tired to investigate

Quite soon I thought of the site that had prompted some discussion a few months ago.  On lemmetweetthatforyou.com, random tweets from random people are fabricated and then spewed out into the world.  Giesler, my friend and colleague, had even warned last March that media could be tripped up by it.

But, after two tapings and an early wake-up call for a flight to Munich, I was too tired to investigate more closely whether someone was getting away with a joke here.  Besides, the Internet connection on the ICE was weak.  It worked for Twitter, but websites recreated the feel of a 56K modem:  slooooooww.

And so I distributed the fake.  The retweets proliferated.  Everybody laughed.

Fortunately, I also have discerning and alert followers: @nils90 and @fluestertweets both warned that it smelled of a fake and lemmetweetthatforyou.com.  @Fluestertweets then dug up the visual proof:

[ @fluestertweets posts a picture of a tweet from @ParisHilton: “Dear People, what was passed off as mine here is a fake. I don’t know Mandela at all.”]

I withdrew the tweet, which earned me (justifiable) criticism from @kopfduell:

Well.  What am I supposed to say to that?  I tried the Transparency-Move:

It worked: @kopfduell pronounced himself satisfied.

Transparency better than a cover-up

But I was still aggravated.  I still find that it’s better to handle mistakes with transparency than to conceal them.  But it’s even better not to make any mistakes.

That’s not nearly so easy, though, when you try to swim in the stream of news as I do from time to time.  As a free journalist I try to distribute the most exclusive or newest information possible.  For one thing, to be more interesting to new followers, readers, or whomever.  For another, to enhance my standing with my colleagues.

As always in media, it comes down to one thing above all:  attention, which can then be monetized in some way.  Not because of the money.  But to be able to do something in life, that I do every day in the media.

My “leak” from the press release

But the effort can also backfire.  As I left the dentist’s this morning, I read with surprise a report in the Tagesschau app, which said that the Axel-Springer firm is taking over the news broadcaster N24.  There wasn’t much more information, so I followed up via Twitter DM with a colleague from N24:  What’s going on there?  I was immediately furnished with information from the company meeting, which I distributed on Twitter.

As I was tweeting that, I was standing in the hallway of the dentist’s office.  I had neither looked for nor read the press release about it.  I should have, though.  Which was immediately drilled into my head (yeah, Twitter is fast):

As a writer for the strict NDR media magazine ZAPP I would side with my colleagues every time:  “A journalist would really stoop to this?!  Selling readily accessible information as a ‘Leak?!’  It’s more like a leek!  A road apple!  What a wheezing hack!  Dullard!  Scandalmonger!  Swill-pusher, dope!”

Facepalm: hangdog journalist is hangdog.

I tried to defend myself as a freelance journalist (as with @kopfduell).  This time with the Ironic Self-Deprecation Move:

I thus withdraw my daft attempt to publish an exclusive scoop.  As a freelance journalist I’m once again confronted by the question of what’s better:  to be quick, and risk mistakes, or to be cautious and thus not swim along in the stream of news.

How much quality?  How much quantity?

Clearly:  quality must come before quality.  But if I had thoroughly investigated all the information from all the 35,000 Tweets I’ve published so far, as I do with information for ZAPP reports, I would have written only a fraction of them.

It’s often a mixture of “I trust the sources” and “the information sounds plausible,” which prompts me to pass something along on the Internet.  I regard blog entries on this site in a similar way.  For me, they’re more like work in progress than “finished articles that I don’t (have to) correct anymore.”

Because:  In both cases there’s the possibility of correction, of retraction, of adjustment.  Things here can also be reworked through #Followerpower or #Crowdsourcing, as just happened in the case of the faked Paris Hilton tweet.

With linear media like television, or more static forms of journalism like the fully-produced video, that’s not so easy.  So in those formats I let diligence have the upper hand.

Hands off Twitter?  No thank you.

Is that a mistake?  Perhaps.  The conundrum “Publish or Investigate” will be ever more pressing, the faster our media become.  As a journalist, I have to recognize ever more quickly what’s genuine and what isn’t, what’s plausible and what’s nonsense, what’s a rumor and what’s a scoop.

The plethora of information that can be spread by all sorts of people doesn’t make it any easier.  But in the end that’s the job of a journalist, for whom only the smallest possible number of mistakes is acceptable.

The alternative?  To keep completely out of the “fast” business on Twitter & Co. and publish only long, original stories like Stefan Niggemeier and many others.  But that is no alternative for me right now.  I like the quick exchange too much for that.

The risk?  If I make too many mistakes, things could go for me as they have with BILD [the German periodical]:  reputation ruined.  Credibility lost.  I want to avoid that at all costs.

But:  Where is the mark?  When has a journalist gambled away his credibility?  What would you say?

tldr

As a journalist I must strike a balance between quality and quantity, so that I don’t risk my credibility through too many false reports. That’s getting increasingly difficult online. #mimimi