Case Study 7: Ethics of Twitter journalism and people watching

19 Mar

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

Twitter has encouraged a new kind of literary journalism.

The Andy Boyle report on the couple breaking up, ‘The Restaurant of Broken Dreams,” was fascinating. It is nothing we all haven’t walked by or witnessed ourselves. If we were to record bits of every conversation we hear while walking, riding the bus or going to the restroom, we would have so many interesting stories.

One time I was in the bathroom and I heard an entire conversation about a girl’s embarrassment when her atheist boyfriend decided to show up at her Methodist church, and he noisily walked in when they were in the middle of prayer.

I don’t think I was intruding on her privacy. Many people cite privacy as a big problem or violation in this type of journalism. My thoughts are that anything in public is free to use unless someone has an expectation of privacy. For example, if someone is on the phone and is trying to speak in hushed tones or separates themselves from a crowd in public, then obviously this person has an expectation of privacy. By law, there are other factors that determine expectation of privacy, such as the location of the person, for example, a residence or a closed items like posted mail.

If a person walks into a room talking on the phone like they are Julia Roberts or something, then obviously their conversation is like a show; something theatrical. This is free to be used because the person is not trying to withhold the information from you. The person knows there are ears all around.

Though the person may know others are listening, however, this does not mean recording is ethical. Recording is different from just hearing something in public. Recording has an extra element that is not on paper when the person who hears it records it. With a sound bite, a person’s voice is recorded and this means the person can be more easily identified. This is a problem if you have not asked the person for permission because it may be illegal in the state in which you live.

Photos were a bit much in this piece. A photo of the couple is creepy. A photo of the restaurant and where they were sitting is not. The couple knew people were watching them, and they game Boyle a show, so he took everything in a recorded it. Maybe it was wrong just for the simple fact that he was giving them the attention they wanted.

As this type of journalism grows and people make a name out of themselves for the stories they record and witness, the ethics of the whole ordeal will evolve. I don’t think what Boyle did was unethical after he took down the photo of the couple. Everything else was interesting, true and fair game. People are interesting. Things happen. Write about the moments that should not be forgotten.

And here, you see, I did it myself #UFtabernacle.

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One Response to “Case Study 7: Ethics of Twitter journalism and people watching”

  1. Hallie Kammerer April 8, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    Major thankies for the article.Really thank you! Cool.

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