The social media activity of a journalist is his - not the company’s
Jul 28, 2011
The ownership of a journalist's social media activity sparks debate and highlights the need for clear policies and fair compensation.
When a journalist appears on TV with the credibility of being the "editor" of a certain subject for that broadcast, or for a newspaper, who "owns" this credibility: them or the media outlet? And when this journalist has followers on Twitter? Who has a right to these followers? Just like legislation, ethical codes and the rationale behind new relationships in the digital communication world are beginning to be written. No one knows the exact answer to all these questions, but frictions have already begun.
The move of a BBC economics editor to competitor ITV in England sparked a series of discussions around an apparently harmless controversy, but definitely concrete. Laura Kuenssberg switched networks but kept her Twitter account @BBCLauraK. She created a new one with the name of her new employer, but the fact is that this new account simply absorbed the capital accumulated by the previous account.
Wait a minute: are we talking capital here? Money? Perhaps not in cash, but money indeed. Laura Kuenssberg took at least 60,000 Twitter followers' attention away from the BBC and ultimately, this group of people undoubtedly represents capital - economically speaking. The debate that occurred revolves around the question: did she have the right to do this?
The incident served to awaken companies to the lack of policy in relation to their professionals' activities on social networks. Until a little while ago, their professionals' presence on Twitter was viewed with disdain. I don't know of any media professional who is paid by their own employer for their activity on Twitter or Facebook. In companies' views, this activity is an "onus" that the professional bears. From this point of view, Laura Kuenssberg has every right to show the finger to the BBC and keep the followers she attracted, even if it was using the status conferred by the position she held at the network.
Information companies have been treating their professionals as feudal lords who own their intellectual activity for decades. Anything they write belongs to them - in their view. But this is a fallacy that has become true due to the dominance of the means of production they held. I know the talk is getting a little too Marxist for the 21st century, but some of the German's definitions were basically definitive. The perversion of capital and its idiosyncrasies are some of them. For decades, employers have been stripping professionals of their labor guarantees thinking they were increasing their profits. They were, but they were also opening up prerogatives for them to feel no connection with these companies. In the freelance culture, the company only has what it pays for. And they don't pay for anything beyond the purchased pages. Translating: the journalist was led to be the "fixed freelancer" (a legal aberration created in Brazilian journalism to reduce company costs) because the company wanted to spend less. In the "fixed freelancer", everything the journalist does - except for what they are paid for - is theirs.
Okay, I know that the discussion here is being generated by an event in England and not here, and the whole situation outlined here is peculiar to Brazil. The point is that the expansion of the discussion about the intellectual property of the journalist's production outside the services for which they were commissioned is from here too. Until the other day, not a few companies offered their journalists to keep a blog within the company structure as "a chance" for the journalist to have more exposure. Today, even they are ashamed to offer such a "chance" and know that if they want content in a blog, they need to pay for it separately. The activity of a journalist (or communication professional, which is a more appropriate term for the new times) goes far beyond the story they print on a newspaper page. Their integration in society through their inputs is basically linked to their profession, but this additional work, if not paid for, is their capital and not the company's. All indications are that companies should start thinking about incorporating journalists' social network activity into their work - but they will have to pay for it. Otherwise, the company can cry all they want.