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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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45% consumers purchase financial products online according to our survey. Here’s why

How one of the last bastions of offline transactions is rapidly moving online.

With flight bookings, shopping and buying movie tickets all moving online, it was only a matter of time before purchasing financial products followed suit. In fact, with greater safety, better user interfaces, simpler processes and of course, busier lives, many Indians are opting to buy financial products like insurance and bank deposits online and on-the-go rather than at a bank branch.

We conducted a survey among 150 consumers in 4 metro cities (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad) and 2 tier-II cities (Indore and Bhopal) to understand the financial products Indians are buying online and their needs.

The market for financial products still has huge potential for growth with 29% respondents reporting that they owned no financial instruments. Insurance is without a doubt the most widely owned financial instrument for Indians. Nearly half the sample—45% of the respondents—reported investing in insurance. Apart from that, around 27% invested in bank deposits like Fixed and Recurring Deposits and only 13% opted for mutual funds, 13% bought stocks, and just 10% took home loans. While many people still consume financial products only at their bank branches, a large number have started seeking financial information and buying financial instruments online.

The shifting tide

We found that 45% of the survey respondents bought financial products online, indicating that a large chunk of Indians is trusting the internet to manage something as sensitive as their financial investments. It is clear that Indians value the distinct advantages of transacting online. Convenience is an integral part of the experience—60% of those who bought financial products online felt that convenience played an important role in choosing to purchase online. Multiple aspects of convenience resonate with buyers—over 40% felt that the availability of 24/7 services and the ease of comparing different products from drove them to buy online.

However, findings also reveal some concerns that even tech-savvy Indians have with the online medium.

Security is king

Understandably, security is a key factor for buyers of financial products. Even among the 45% who purchased financial products online, almost half felt that the lack of security prevented them from buying more financial products online. Tellingly, the most commonly bought financial product online is general insurance. It has to be bought (in the case of travel) or renewed (in the case of car insurance) regularly and quickly, which is easier done online. It also doesn’t require the submission of too many personal documents—another­ factor reported by many as a barrier to online purchase of financial products.

To overcome these security concerns, many companies are taking concrete steps to improve the online security of their portals. They are setting up SSL security systems that encrypt and protect the user’s data and payments and are educating customers on how to recognize online payment scams. Thus, people are slowly moving towards buying high involvement financial items like life insurance as well online.

The human factor

Research is a crucial part of the buying process, and most buyers seek information from multiple sources. While research for several consumer products like electronics and furniture has moved online even if purchase is offline, financial products have been slower to move, especially due to the need for expertise. From the sample, 55% rated talking to financial consultants and advisors as very important. Similarly, 55% rated advice from friends and family as very important.

As is evident, while the world is going online, there is something to be said for the familiarity and comfort of human interaction. Even online buyers value non-digital channels of communication. Of those who bought financial products online, 25% felt that visiting bank branches was important, 30% felt that recommendations from friends and family was important, and 33% felt that discussing it with financial advisors was important.

However, we find that online forums and aggregators are also gaining in terms of people using them to research products. According to a BCG report, search queries on life and health insurance have grown 4.5 times from 2008 to 2013, showing that digital is certainly influencing the research part of the buying cycle. Many life insurance companies and banks have caught on to this trend and are finding ways of making customer service executives available online through chat facilities on their portals. Additionally, companies are also investing in a better online user experience by designing their websites to be simple, attractive and easy-to-understand, so that the process of purchase becomes easier for customers.

When it comes to buying insurance, finding an appropriate plan is not an easy process. Life insurance companies are using technology and algorithms to overcome these human biases with innovative products like life insurance calculators. An example of this is the HDFC Life insurance profiler which simplifies the process of choosing an insurance plan. A person can enter five to six parameters and get an objective opinion on the best insurance plan suited to his or her time and status in life.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HDFC Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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