Hey Bröckerhoff, are you here on Business or Pleasure?

Posted: December 22, 2013 in Media
Tags: , , ,

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.

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