Talking politics on Facebook

A few years ago, my publisher told me a conversation he had with a neighbor who didn’t read the newspaper. He asked where she got her news. She responded, “Facebook.”

That answer baffled him because he wasn’t active on the social networks, but I got it. Friend the right friends, like the right pages or follow the right people on Twitter and you can find out just about everything that’s going on in the world.

Last night, Fox 8 did a piece on the dangers of using social media to discuss politics. The premise of the report was that it’s a terrible idea to talk politics on Facebook. “You’re not going to change someone’s political beliefs through a Facebook post,” said Scott Dickson with Dickson Interactive, a website and social networking consultant company, in Winston-Salem…. “If you interact with the public at all then it’s my opinion just keep quiet about these kinds of things let your vote be your voice,” said Dickson.

Even though the headline of the piece says “experts,” plural, its sole source is Scott, who is my friend. And, for my money, he’s wrong. (I’m a little surprised that Fox 8 didn’t get another social media expert to counter Scott’s ideas rather than simply letting them stand. After all, in practice, Fox 8 doesn’t agree with them, as it posts links to political stories and permits a free-for-all in the comments.)

One of the wonders of Facebook and Twitter is that you can follow who you want, read the discussions you want and participate in the discussions you want. I have friends who do nothing but lurk. I have others who post about their kids. Some who post Bible verses. And others who post politics. Sometimes the comments get a little personal, but not that often.

I admit that I’m biased. I post about politics. It’s a topic that interests me. I like to read the links that others post because I usually learn something. For instance, the first places I’ve seen the fact-checking articles about the Republican and Democratic speeches at the conventions were on Facebook and Twitter. Those informed my opinions about what was said in Tampa and Charlotte.

I’m also biased because I don’t like others putting rules on how social media “should” be used. Facebook and Twitter give us enough rules. So, when Scott says that social media sites are for people who want to have fun with friends, I must respectfully disagree. I have fun with friends and we talk about all kinds of things. But eliminating politics from the discussion? Well, Arab Spring, anyone?

Update: Scott responds to this post in the comments. He also points out the WFMY did a similar story a day later. It, too, is a one source story. It’s recommendation, however, is one that is closer to where I am.

Five years later: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

I asked my communication class, made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores, what their news and information sources are.

The top three answers were Facebook, Twitter and “people I know.” (The New York Times, which is distributed free in the communications building, was the first mainstream news source listed.)

This isn’t surprising to many journalists who have been paying attention.  From the New York Times in March 2007: Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Problem is, I get the idea that enough journalists aren’t paying attention.

Five years later, many editors and publishers aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. Of those who are, many don’t engage with people beyond promoting stories in their own publications. I should also include television here, too. Only a few of the 33 students mentioned getting news or information from broadcast news. (Their websites got decent numbers, though.)

Though they didn’t use this language, the students essentially described Facebook and Twitter as their own personal news sources — news sources they designed comprised of people they knew and trusted giving them information about both their personal lives  and the broader world.

The point? If journalists want to survive — to say nothing of flourish today — they must be part of the conversation of this generation of budding thinkers and news creators and consumers. They need to evaluate all the tools that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. offer and figure out what works for them.


We or them?

A couple days after I left the News & Record, I asked this question on Facebook: At what point, when talking about the newspaper, do I switch pronouns from “we” to “they”?

The answers came quickly and in abundance. They were all over the place, ranging from now to never. Some classics:

Dan Conover: From my experience, when the paper does something you like, it’s “we.” When the paper does something you don’t like, it’s “they.” When it’s something that makes you want to to grab a flame thrower and go torch the place, it’s “the media.”

Mike Orren: After the last piece of copy you touched runs.

Robyn Tomlin: Being a journalist is like being an alcoholic. You can be “in recovery,” but you live with the disease for the rest of you life, even if you never take another drink (or write another story). You will always be part of the collective — whether you like it or not.

And Teresa Prout, who is currently interim editor, left my favorite: It should always be “we,” John. You’re grandfathered in.

I think it will be “we” as long as I can’t pass an open rack of newspapers at the Harris Teeter without making sure it is filled. As long as I feel a pang of regret when I pass a house at 11 a.m. and see the paper still in the driveway. As long as I defend the paper when an ignoramus takes a cheap shot at it having a liberal bias. As long as I see a blog post that is so insightful that I want to call the writer and congratulate him or her.

It will be “we” so long as I read a story that I wish never ends, see a photo that takes my breath away or get dazzled by a design that makes me proud to be a subscriber. Given who is there now, I think it will be “we” for a long time.