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June 16, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:23am

‘Just stop it’: News execs Will Lewis and Lionel Barber condemn journalists’ ‘unbecoming’ use of social media to share opinions

By William Turvill

Two senior newspaper executives have condemned journalists’ “unbecoming” use of social media to share their opinions and exclusive content.

Will Lewis, the former boss of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, and ex-Financial Times editor Lionel Barber have also spoken of their uneasiness about the “blurring” of opinions and facts in journalism.

Lewis – who recently left his role and missed out in the race to become the BBC’s next director general – said that in “this increasingly resource-constrained time… journalistic standards are inevitably slipping. And we’re beginning to see the blurring of facts and comments in a way that I think is extremely worrying and extremely challenging.”

He exempted the FT, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and New York Times from his criticism.

Barber, who was speaking with Lewis on a video conference (see below) organised by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, said: “I would make a more general point – we’ve seen this particularly at the BBC: We have to be very careful in the way journalists are using social media.

“They are essentially seeing [their social media pages as] their own platforms, and it’s definitely comment. And therefore this blurring that Will rightly identifies has been massively accentuated by social media.

“And it’s not good enough for journalists to say: Oh, by the way, on my Twitter handle, these views are [my own] – because they do work for an organisation.

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In a message to journalists who use social media in this way, Lewis added: “Just stop it – it’s unbecoming of the organisations you work for!”

He said: “We have to get people to tighten up. Because the world needs facts now more than ever before at the very time that the supply of those facts is most challenged, and it’s being filled by state-owned broadcasters – Russians, Chinese –  corporates getting ever more sophisticated at doing their own ‘news’, and frankly also campaigning groups that are beginning to slip into the ecosystem as facts.

“And for those of us that have given our professional lives to the belief that facts trump everything, this is a very challenging time.”

The former Daily Telegraph editor added that he has been “irritated” by journalists who share their work on social media first.

“Stop giving away the stories first on Twitter,” he said. “We pay you to deliver stories to our readers. Let them hear first.

Both Barber and Lewis were speaking about the future of financial journalism, and the industry more generally, in light of Covid-19.

Barber said we are in the “best of times and the worst of times for financial journalism”.

He said: “The best of times because the story of how the world economies, national economies, financial markets have been affected by Covid-19 – and the impact on industry and business – is just a great story. We thought that the 2008 financial crisis was a huge story, the best in two generations maybe, but this one in many ways is even more complicated and even more challenging. But a great one for journalists… So in journalistic terms, great.

“But the worst of times is clearly the economic impact, and what it’s doing to revenues. [It’s] just taken away a huge slice of news orgaisations’ revenues in terms of advertising, but also corporate sponsorship, conferences, et cetera. So that’s a very, very big challenge.”

He added: “It’s turbocharging the internet. It’s turbocharging digital journalism – and I think probably putting a question mark over the print publication. Not necessarily at the weekend, which is a different experience. But during the week, I’m not so sure.”

Lewis said: “What we thought was going to unfold over five to ten years is unfolding over five to ten months. And actually possibly five to ten weeks – it’s that profound a moment.”

Picture: Dow Jones

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