In this post, Steven Roll, ASBPE past president looks at the growing trend of articles that include quotes taken from virtual social media venues such as Twitter and Facebook. Left unchecked, the practice increases the likelihood of producing inaccurate or incomplete stories, Roll says.

A well-known industry expert left a comment on a publication’s LinkedIn group grousing about a recent regulatory development that is likely to negatively affect her clients. Is her comment fair game for use as a quote in an article on the subject?

Perhaps. But if it were my publication, I would follow up on the comment by e-mailing or calling her.  I would want her to understand that her comment was going to be published in my publication. Reaching out to her would ensure that her remark wouldn’t be taken out of context. Plus, she would most likely elaborate on what she said.

But I’m not sure if some magazines or newspapers are being as careful as I would be.

When ASBPE past-president Paul Heney was laid off this summer from his position as editorial director of Hotel & Motel Management magazine as a result of a reorganization at Questex, Folio: wrote a story about it, which concluded with this:

Paul Heney, the title’s former editorial director, couldn’t be reached for comment but said over Twitter: “I’ve entered the realm of the jobless. If I have any disappointment, it’s for the way fellow co-workers were let go. Time 4 summer vacation.”

A few months later when Paul mentioned the Folio story to me after ASBPE’s national board meeting, he said he doubted that Folio: made much of an effort to reach him. “They’ve never had a problem finding me before,” he said.

It’s too bad that Folio: didn’t reach Paul because asking him to elaborate on his tweet would have most likely improved the story. It would have been interesting to know how Questex went about terminating his co-workers.

Even some of the most high impact news stories  now contain references to “tweets” from sources. A story that appeared in the New York Times this weekend about Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford story quoted some tweets made by a former high school classmate of Loughner. The article said:

“As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy,” the former classmate, Caitie Parker, wrote in a series of Twitter feeds Saturday. “I haven’t seen him since ’07 though. He became very reclusive.”

“He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in ’07, asked her a question & he told me she was ‘stupid & unintelligent,’ ” she wrote.

The fact that the quote was pulled from Twitter makes me wonder if she would have further elaborated if she was communicating via a medium that wasn’t limited to 140 characters.

A story in Sunday’s Washington Post made use of Facebook. An article about the dissatisfaction among University of Maryland Alumni with the school’s new Athletic Director, Kevin Anderson, for firing the school’s football coach Ralph Friedgen, noted:

There are two “Fire Kevin Anderson” pages on Facebook. Cindy Skiles, a 1985 Maryland graduate who annually donates at least $11,000 to the athletic department, is one of 101 people who “likes” one of the pages. Skiles, who felt the last few weeks have been “uncoordinated, unprofessional,” had high hopes for the hire when Anderson fired Friedgen.

Including tweets and Facebook “likes” or comments in news stories begs a number of questions. For instance, in the Washington Post story, did the donor make the “uncoordinated, unprofessional” comment to the reporter, or was this something she said on Facebook? If this quote was from Facebook  what was the context? Was it response to another comment?

To be sure, the things people say on social media outlets shouldn’t be ignored. But some type of guidance is needed to ensure that virtual interactions are sufficient to produce an accurate and complete story.

What’s your take on this issue?