Social media shapes public perception, and nowhere is this truer than in the news business. When a professional and credentialed reporter with a respected news organization posts an article or even a tweet, the results can affect national policy, as it should. The media performs a critical function to our country. The freedom of the press is essential to democracy, and the current banner on the Washington Post’s web site sums up my beliefs about this freedom: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Our elected and public officials must be accountable to their constituencies, and accountability begins with thoughtful and verifiable reporting. Yet of these guaranteed First Amendment rights, freedom of the press is the only one that must show a profit to survive. I understand when some in the media pushes back on this statement, but most of us have heard the cliche, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
All this leads me to a friendly social media exchange I had under my personal account with reporter Taylor Pettaway with the Nevada Appeal. She posted a minor car accident on her feed this week that clearly showed a license plate. I tweeted to her that I respectfully disagreed with this practice, and she replied that there was no law forbidding this picture and that it happened on a public street, which is true. Basically, we agreed to disagreed and we got on with our lives.
But this Twitter string stuck to me (posted below). How would I have felt if I saw the tweet and recognized the license plate belonging to a loved one? One of the occupants was pregnant. What emotions would the husband/boyfriend be feeling if he were at work? What about the parents of the pregnant woman? And so on. And what value is gained by posting this picture with personal identifiable information? The same picture could have been taken from another angle without the license plate, and the same outcome would have been accomplished without possibly stressing out the family of the accident victim. I acknowledge that I’m creating imaginary and dramatic scenarios over a minor fender bender, but not unrealistic ones.
I do not mean to hold up Ms. Pettaway to negative scrutiny. I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while, and I respect and appreciate her energy and efforts to keep our community informed. If there is a wrong here, then I am equally culpable by publishing the picture below. What I hope to accomplish with this post is to inspire more dialogue and thought on the longstanding debate of media access and responsibility, a reasonable discussion in this Information Age of the 24/7 news cycle.
What do you think? Who’s right or wrong? Let me know and thanks for reading.