So today this ran in my school paper. It’s not the heavy enterprise I’ve been blogging about — we’re looking at next week sometime for that.
It’s something I had the sources written out for, I had the contact made and it would be a fairly simple, but telling byline. That being said, this byline taught me a lot of lessons in two days.
The first, that getting all sides is vital. When my editor said to talk to students who may be offended by these tweets, I knew it was also a little scary. Walking up to someone, asking what it’s like to be hated on via social media, it’s a little like adding to the burn.
The second was the identity of sources. When a student who was exposed on these pages turned down an interview, I wasn’t surprised. It happens, and nine times out of 10, the reporter respects the source’s wishes. So I went with the next best thing, and asked if I could mention the source’s reasons for declining the interview — that she’d received hostility after her tweet was exposed — from an anonymous account.
This was fine with the source. But in her email confirming this, she added she did not want her exposed tweets in the story. My first thought was, easy enough. I can lightly paraphrase the tweets, making it obvious what the tweets said.
It was my editors who clarified that once a person has his or her posts on public platform such as the internet — even if deleted — those posts are fair game. I sent my source an email explaining this, to receive my first source-threat of my career. A year ago, I would have been wide-eyed and pale, but I was proud of myself for standing my ground. I gave her a chance to make any statement she wished, but even when she attempted to guilt me further, I knew what I was doing.
My story made it to the last read before being sent to the copy editors, when one of my editors looked up from revising and asked, “Why is she anonymous?”
I thought this had been made clear, but again I explained the situation. This, too, turned into another lesson. Since the tweet, screen-shot on Tumblr for all to see, included her username along with her real name, it too was fair game for media’s use. Since she said she wished not to be interviewed after saying she’d received hostility, her statement was still valid. And with one, “she declined to comment further,” my source wasn’t unethically used.
I still felt a little worried walking back to my car last night, but not apologetic. I considered explaining the decision to my source before the story went to press but decided to let it be. If she emails me with questions or complaints, it was, in the end, a decision made by my editors. Not that I was arguing.
What the source decided to post served as a great example of what the admin of these pages is exposing. And with her name on the page, I had reign to use it.
I’m not perfect by all means. Almost two years ago I thought some guy that was arrested was employed by somewhere different than he was, and I made a joke about it on Facebook. The manager at the place where I thought the guy worked happened to be a friend on Facebook, and got up in arms. I apologized, but she contacted the adviser of some student group I was in. It was silly. I felt embarrassed.
And that’s the thing: today, it really was just some guy that got arrested. It was just some manager at some place and the adviser of some student group didn’t like that I wasn’t representing them with similar posts. Life goes on. In the end, you were just a silly college student and you thank God you have more to show for yourself to make people forget the silly little things along the way.
But if this byline taught me anything, it was to be even more careful about what I post. On blogs, twitter pages and Facebook. Once something is posted online, it really is forever.
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