Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Rein in ‘celebrity journalists’ - Jamaican media urged to maintain standards

Published:Sunday | December 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMJerome Reynolds
Claude Robinson
Members of the Press Association of Jamaica at a church service to mark the start of the 2015 National Journalism Week.

As more and more Jamaican journalists engage in social media and the digital world as part of the evolving news environment, media companies are being encouraged to establish protocols to govern the conduct of their workers.

In countries like in the United States and the United Kingdom, some journalists have become celebrities as a by-product of using social media to interact with audiences while reporting the news.

Some journalists actively cultivate and promote a personal brand separately from their news organisations.

Communications scholar and educator, Claude Robinson, says some of this behaviour is creeping into the local media environment, and newsrooms should take notice.

"You sometimes hear journalists say that they have more followers than their news organisations," Robinson told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.

He said while the news and media environment has evolved, certain standards remain the same for the profession.


Impartiality and credibility


Robinson underscored that impartiality and credibility must be maintained by journalists, even during the current emphasis on going digital.

He argued that protocols are needed to help guide the online conduct of journalists.

"How much time should a reporter spend in conversation with his Twitter followers? How much opinion is being expressed, or is there just clarification?

"Is he/she becoming so opinionated in handling his twitter followers that he loses some credibility as an objective, independent, impartial journalist? Those are issues which can become problematic and have to be managed," said Robinson, an associate teaching fellow and lecturer in business communication at the Mona School of Business and Management, UWI, Mona.

Penelope Abernathy, Knight Foundation Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at University of North Carolina, told the forum that there is merit to setting guidelines to manage the online interaction of journalists.

She argued that while the popularity of a journalist is not a bad thing, news organisations should look at individual cases and give reporters the right directions.

"The news organisations need to really think about how much an individual stardom, celebrity role they encourage, and how they use that back-end for what it is" said Abernathy.

"I think that as long as you have journalists who subscribe to what newspaper's brand is, then that's okay ... ." said the former executive at the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Robinson and Abernathy acknowledge that "celebrity journalists" are not new, and that this phenomenon has been happening for a long time in the media industry. However, they both agree that media organisations should ensure that their journalists engage in proper conduct while online.