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Tuesday, 31 August 2010 11:09

Twitter becomes the new oracle of the media


The well known axiom that you shouldn't believe everything you read in the media has found a new adversary in online social blab network Twitter. Well credentialed supposedly unbiased but all too human journalists and media commentators are freely venting their very biased spleens in tweets and creating much vexation amongst their media bosses.

The latest such example is Fairfax freelancer and sometime iTWire contributor Adam Turner, who last night copped a spray on media watch for quite explicitly displaying his political bias in a couple of tweets on election night. No doubt under pressure, his 'boss' Paul Ramadge, editor of The Age newspaper, issued a 'one time warning' to Turner to in effect pull his head in.

Turner's vividly explicit bad language in the offending tweets, although mentioned in the ABC's Media Watch, was basically overlooked as not the main issue. After all, everybody uses bad language these days - even our former Prime Minister (perhaps soon to be twice removed).

Of course, Turner is not the first journalist to be recently publicly outed for displaying political bias in tweets. It is starting to happen all too frequently all over the world in organisations like the BBC and CNN and this raises an interesting issue.

Without a doubt, media bosses want to portray their publications as fair and balanced, even if they try to subtly bend the underlying message to meet their own very biased policies. Perceived left leaning newspapers such as the The Age and SMH or perceived right leaning broadsheets such as The Australian may publicly express their political preference in pre-election editorials but for journalists to openly reveal their bias is not on.

So what we are left with are newspapers staffed with very politically biased journalists who are forced to pretend to be neutral in their stories. Is it any wonder that they want to publicly air their views in their own blogs and through social network sound bites like tweets?

Returning to the case of Adam Turner, if I am not mistaken (and please correct me if I'm wrong) he is not even a Fairfax staffer but a freelancer with a regular gig. In other words, newspaper groups, who these days can no longer afford to keep journalists on the payroll, are now trying to tell their freelancers that they can't publicly express their views in their own private media outlets.

It is one thing to tell a staffer to put a cork in it but quite another to try to muzzle a freelancer who has his own social media network of followers. Fairfax, though, may have a case in arguing that since it is the major source of Turner's income, it is his quasi employer and can therefore set some conditions on his tenure as a regular freelancer.

An underlying point of all this is though is that for possibly the first time in modern history the power of the Internet and social networks like Twitter is starting to force the media to be honest. Let's face it, the so-called fair and balanced media is populated with content produced by humans - and nearly all humans are biased and anything but fair and balanced.

Another perhaps even more pertinent point is that never before have we - journalists and non-journalists like - become more accountable for what we do or say as a result of the Internet and the social network phenomenon.

If we post something compromising on Facebook or Twitter, as was starkly demonstrated by Adam Turner on election night, we have got to be prepared to wear the consequences - perhaps in perpetuity.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.



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