Critical Thinking: Should Publishers Mandate Social Media Training For Newsroom Staff?

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By: Nu Yang

Q: Do you think editors and reporters should be required to take mandated training sessions on how to set up and use social media accounts? 

Grace Dickinson, 21, senior, Temple University (Philadelphia)
Dickinson is currently a magazine journalism major. She has a passion for health and nutrition and writes about those topics on her website, In her free time, she explores the city on her bike with her camera always by her side.

A: I don’t necessarily think there is a need to mandate special training sessions to teach proper use of social media. Even for older generations, sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter are fairly user-friendly and become self-explanatory after the initial process of setting them up.

Besides, there isn’t yet a standard set of rules that editors/ reporters need to adhere to when using social media. The style of usage really depends on the publication. While using these outlets with professionalism is important — something I think can be learned and understood with the direction of a qualified editor, sans training sessions — the frequency of their use, method of usage, and purpose can vary quite significantly from publication to publication.

For instance, magazines known for snarky columnists or opinionated writers might want their staff to have Twitter feeds that strongly reflect those characteristic personalities. Meanwhile, a respected news outlet may just want to operate one Twitter account that solely relays the stories they are producing, used primarily as a marketing tool that further distributes the outlet’s work. Determining how to use social media as a forum of communication would be better discussed by the creative thinkers within each respective publication, rather than information that’s taught in a conventional training session.

Money for such social media training sessions would be better spent elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be better to invest it in research or special projects? For instance, why not put the money toward expanding coverage in Africa. As supposed experts in communication, journalists should have no trouble determining appropriate usage of social media. Meanwhile, there are tons of other areas of reporting that are certainly lacking funding.

Autumn Agar, 38, editor, Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)
Prior to becoming editor of the Times-News, Agar was managing editor of the New Braunfels (Texas) Herald-Zeitung. She also has served as founding editor of the Sky-Hi Daily News in Grand County, Colo., and editor of the Payson (Ariz.) Roundup.

A: A reporter was visiting a small airport in our coverage area, and he tweeted a joke about the lack of security and what he imagined he could sneak onto the runway. He had thousands of followers on an account that he used both for his work at a newspaper and for personal communication.

One thing was obvious from reading that tweet — online, this guy was flying solo.

His print reporting was well-respected, carefully guided by editors and his own sense of the rules of journalism, but his reporting on social media was not.

Since so many reporters and editors use social media in their personal lives, I think an incorrect assumption is made that they will also know how to professionally navigate Facebook, Twitter, and other tools.

Do newsrooms have the budget to spend on mandated social media training for editors and reporters? Probably not. But that should not stop any newsroom from developing some level of social media orientation before any reporter or editor represents his or her publication online.

From there, just like with more traditional reporting techniques, training is a daily conversation.

The best return on investment for time spent using social media tools comes when the audience is able to interact with reporters online.

Our Web editor Josh Palmer had this to say: “I encourage reporters and editors to use their own account rather than one created just for the newspaper. With social media, you want the human face to come out. In general, social media in the newsroom is trial and error, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Reporters must feel unleashed enough to bring a personality to their online presence and to experiment, but they must know the boundaries. Finding that balance is the daily adventure of the modern-day newsroom.

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