This often feels like a moral or ethical debate, sometimes played out in a cartoon on Twitter itself. But the question of how to get your readers to trust you is not really moral, in my opinion. It’s tactical and empirical. One reason reporters use social media is because of sources. Some reporters take information from sources by keeping their cards close to their chests. Others develop sources on social media by spreading their views and finding allies. But news talk about bias and trust strangely tends to leave the audience out. Last week, I persuaded an election bureau, Morning Consult, to ask Americans more or less about whether we should all shut up on social media.
The results were mixed. When asked directly whether “journalists have a responsibility to keep their opinion private on their personal social media as well”, a majority of respondents agreed with a margin of almost 2: 1.
However, the details of the survey of 3,423 people with an error rate of 2 percent reveal a deeper divide. Given the choice between two alternatives, 41 percent agreed: “I trust journalists more when they keep their political and social views a secret”, while 36 percent agreed to the contrary: “I trust journalists more when they are open and honest about their political and social views. “
The answers were not uniform across the groups. More of those who identified as blacks than those in other groups said they would trust journalists more if they knew what the journalists were thinking, while conservatives were more likely than liberals to trust journalists who keep their views private.
Other poll responses suggested that journalists might, just maybe, live on a Twitter-obsessed planet than ordinary people. When respondents showed a version of a tweet from Ms. Wolfe that was causing her Twitter trouble, the jumbled response made it clear that ordinary Americans had no idea what it was about.
Newsrooms could benefit from recognizing that some of the debates on Twitter have more to do with their own corporate identity and choices. Ms. Wolfe told me that while she thought the Times was unfair about her dismissal, she had no objection to the newspaper’s decision to have a social media policy. “The solution for me is not to work in a place where I have to pretend I don’t have an opinion,” she said.
The other, and perhaps more threatening, tension for the big newsrooms is that Mr. Carr discovered in 2012. Social media has shifted the balance of power in the same direction it has long moved in everything from entertainment to sports: away from management and big brands and towards the people who were once referred to as reporters but now sometimes as “Talent” are called. Reporters have every incentive to build great social media followers. It’s a route to television deals, book deals, job offers, and raises. And that can be in conflict with the wishes of your employer. (In case you’re interested, here are the Times reporters with over 500,000 Twitter followers: Maggie Haberman, Marc Stein, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jenna Wortham, Peter Baker, and Nikole Hannah-Jones.)