media issues

The hashtag conundrum: How should journalists negotiate public and private on social media?

With social media blurring the line between public and private more than ever, do journalists need to think about how, and to what effect, they use advocacy hashtags in their messages?

Journalistic objectivity has come under the spotlight in Australia as debate rages over a recent High Court decision that ruled that offshore processing of asylum seekers is legal.

This is no doubt an emotionally charged debate, and the way Australia deals with asylum seekers has been under scrutiny for some time. For journalists working on the story, it can create a conundrum – particularly if they have a strong personal view on the issue.

Do they hold tight to traditional journalistic tenets like “objectivity” and merely report the facts? How can they do this in a world of social media where journalists are increasingly becoming their own brands and it is expected that they offer personal views? Should they even aim for objectivity, or just acknowledge that it is an unrealistic ideal and all journalism is advocacy anyway?

Advocacy versus objectivity

The emergence of the Twitter hashtag #letthemstay and its use by journalists reporting on the asylum seeker issue prompts such questions over whether reporting and advocacy are becoming increasingly blurred.

Advocacy journalism also came under scrutiny in light of revelations that an ABC story reporting that a five-year-old boy had been raped on Nauru was incorrect.

The reporting led to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary, Michael Pezzullo, lamenting the rise of bias in journalism. He argued:

It’s getting to the point that there is advocacy parading as journalism that is actually deleterious to a sensible discussion about these matters.

It also ties in with a larger debate over recent years. Some argue that advocacy journalism is on the rise. Others argue that simplistic “he said, she said” journalism is actually doing us a disservice, such as the false balance phenomenon in science reporting.

Objectivity is one of journalism’s dearest principles today, as many of its practitioners use it to justify their existence. It wasn’t always so, as objectivity was mostly an invention of the 19th and early 20th century in order for journalism to appeal to a wider variety of people, rather than niche audiences. Before then, however, party-political journalism was very much the norm.

In a time where journalism is becoming more fragmented, it appears that niche audiences are more important again, with some publications specialising for certain types of audiences. The pendulum may be swinging again.

It is well known, for example, that The Australian leans to the right politically, while The Guardian takes a left-leaning approach. This is no big secret, and journalists I have spoken to readily admit as much.

There also seems to be an increasing acknowledgement among many journalists that objectivity is an unattainable ideal in any case, because no-one can ever completely ignore their personal views and biases.

Objectivity and the rise of social media

Still, it seems that the idea of objectivity is largely ingrained in Australian journalists. A survey I conducted in 2013 revealed that three in four of them thought it was very or extremely important to be detached observers. In contrast, just over one-third saw it as very or extremely important to advocate for social change.

Unfortunately, we do not yet have reliable longitudinal data available to test whether this number is on the increase. But if we look at journalists’ behaviour on social media, which are increasingly important professional tools, we can observe an ongoing struggle to differentiate between professional and personal aspects.

To be successful on platforms such as Twitter, it is not enough simply to post links to one’s own stories anymore. You need to present a personal as much as a professional persona. This is an issue that many journalists – as well as their employers – are struggling with.

To what extent may personal views expressed on Twitter compromise one’s reporting? The most successful journalists have developed quite elaborate brands, and many employers certainly now have this expectation of their reporters.

Opinion is important in this mix, as journalists know very well, given that opinion pages of newspapers have always been among their most popular sections.

At the same time, employers are wary of journalists’ personal behaviour on Twitter coming into conflict with the organisation’s brand. There have been some high-profile cases where journalists have lost their jobs as a result. Social media guidelines are still murky and changeable.

Some journalists now list a disclaimer in their Twitter profiles that their views are their own. A recent study I conducted with my colleague Axel Bruns shows 30% of Australian journalists make use of this option. But this doesn’t necessarily avoid conflict or mean they can escape punishment.

What now?

So, where does this leave journalists who are reporting on the asylum seeker issue, but also tweeting using #lethemstay? It is an incredibly vexed issue, and journalists need to make their own considered decision on how they want to engage with the hashtag, as merely using it in a tweet may not necessarily signal endorsement.

But in such an emotional issue, it is unrealistic to expect journalists not to have a view, and it might actually be good for them to be open about this.

Journalists who express their opinion and declare their biases may be seen as more honest, and are contributing to increased transparency of journalistic work – a de-mystification of the craft even. This would in turn allow audiences to better appreciate and understand the news they consume.

Folker Hanusch, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.