One of the wonderful things about working for Mashable is, after twenty-plus years as a journalist, I get to have and voice my opinion on items in the news. So it happened that after the Today Show segment in which the anchors expressed their very real lack of knowledge about Facebook privacy settings and social media, I felt the need to send them this message in the form of an Op-Ed.
Would love to hear your thoughts too.
It’s not OK to know nothing about social media or the Internet anymore. It’s especially not OK if you are an anchor for a major network TV news program.
This happened after a segment about Randi Zuckerberg’s private family photo being shared publicly. Today’s Willie Geist, Savannah Guthrie and Natalie Morales — three TV journalists at the top of their profession — laughed about their lack of knowledge about Facebook, Twitter and privacy on social media.
“What’s the takeaway here?” Guthrie asked after several minutes of banter about technological ignorance. “We don’t know either.”
It was meant to be cute, but it came off as plain dumb. Such banter is not only an embarrassment to journalists everywhere, but a slap in the face for the Today audience. (Really, is it that hard to explain that a subscriber to Randi Zuckerberg’s Facebook feed saw her photo then posted it to Twitter?)
Here’s a wake-up call, morning crew; your audience is not that dumb. They watch TV news to keep up with what’s happening in the world. It is your job to inform them. Reading the news and then proclaiming you don’t understand any part of it is the epitome of failure.
Social media and digital technology is no longer news; it’s part of the way we live our lives, how we communicate, how business is conducted. Kids use technology to learn in school, to get their entertainment, to compete in the world. They don’t call it technology; they call it life. Saying “I don’t get it, so I will just skip this part of a global revolution” is like saying “I don’t know how to drive a car so I’ll keep riding my horse and buggy to work.” Technology is not something we can choose to ignore.
Savannah Guthrie was a White House correspondent for four years. If she were still there, would she turn to her audience and say “show of hands if you understand how the fiscal cliff actually works?” No, she would need to understand it and explain it to her viewers. That’s what being a journalist is all about.
In a recent interview with USA Today, Guthrie talked about why her favorite alarm clock is her iPhone, and why she has a distinctive ringtone. Clearly she understands some of the ways technology has entered her life.
Before I came to Mashable, I was a network newswriter and producer for ABC News for more than 20 years. During that time, I covered everything from the politics to the economy to technology. While I may never have a full understanding of how gas prices rise, for example, I always made sure I was prepared to interview an expert in the field and ask knowledgeable questions in order to better understand it. It was my job to explain it in a clear and concise way. If I don’t get it, neither will the audience.
Plenty of people older than the Today crew can wrap their brains around new things. Last night I spent two hours with my mother, an eighty-something-year old (I can’t say the exact number, or she’ll disown me) who is addicted to her iPad. She emails, shares pictures, watches YouTube videos and Skypes with her relatives in Canada. She’s not letting the pleasures of technology pass her by.
Today’s Willie Geist, who’s apparently “still trying to figure out (his) fax machine,” has two young children. I’m sure he plans on teaching them many things as they grow up. Among those should be digital safety and social media etiquette. If he doesn’t get it, he can’t explain it.
Today may not have a takeaway from Randi Zuckerberg’s privacy debacle, but I do. The need to understand our privacy settings illustrate why we can’t stop learning. We can’t say it’s too hard. We don’t let our kids get away with that. As adults, we shouldn’t either.