Here we go again. Two more journalists have learned lessons the hard way. If they thought their personal lives were somehow separate from their professional lives, they’ve had to think again. And while the two cases were vastly different, the outcome was the same. Both journalists lost their jobs.
Lesson 1: What you post on your personal Facebook page is not private. Duluth news director Jason Vincent was on vacation when he posted that a “drunk, homeless, Native American man” was on his list of ‘animals’ that had wandered into his yard. It didn’t take long for the word–and the outrage–to spread.
Vincent quickly apologized and deleted the post. The station, KQDS, said it did not condone his behavior and was truly sorry the incident happened. But within days Vincent was out of a job.
Lesson 2: If you get story ideas because of what you do outside of work, tell your employer where the stories come from. Jason Volentine reported that an atheist group wanted a Michigan town to remove a church and cross from its city seal. But he never disclosed he had a connection to the group. When his bosses at WXMI in Grand Rapids found out, Volentine was out of a job.
I’ve heard the argument more than once that it’s no one’s business what a journalist does on his or her own time. I beg to differ. Personal actions have professional consequences–and I’m not just talking about the obvious risk of losing a job. A derogatory Facebook post by a news manager may stem from a personal complaint, but it can also taint every story that newsroom does about the group in question. And when a reporter covers a story he’s personally involved in, viewers might well wonder how impartial his coverage could possibly be.
Bottom line: Social media is just that–social, not private. And disclosure is always a good policy.