#TalkToTeens – When stories are more important than people

Here we go again.

I’ve been re-reading Kovach and Rosenstiel’s ‘Elements of Journalism’ recently and happened to be in the middle of the chapter on ‘Who journalists work for’ when this popped up in my Twitter stream.

Kovach and Rosenstiel make a simple point, and an increasingly important one: we don’t just tell stories for the sake of it; we do so because we are serving a community.

The story about Charlotte Berry, an assistant headteacher who swore in person-to-person conversations on Twitter is one example of a story which misses this point, and as a result has generated a backlash across Twitter, largely inspired by this post (currently read over 15,000 times) that makes some strong points about the public interest value of the story:

“They knew the ‘inappropriate language’ was jokey banter, between grown-ups, entirely unconnected to the school. They knew that’s what people do on Twitter, they joke and swear and let their hair down. Like this tweet from 17 August, after a football match: “Best moment from last night, the dear old lady 3 rows behind…’bowyer you dirty c@#*!” (in case you’re not sure what c@#* means, it’s ‘cunt’). That tweet wasn’t by @talktoteens, by the way. It was by @SamSmith68, the journalist on the Billericay Gazette.”

And about its target and likely effect:

“Charlotte Berry isn’t just any teacher. She’s a wellspring of energy, commitment and ideas, the sort of teacher you dream your kids will end up with. She runs a role model project for teenage girls, enabling them to meet inspiring professional women. She started a Historypin project in the school, bringing younger and older people together to share stories of their lives in the area. Even her Twitter name, @talktoteens, tells you something about her: she’s an advocate of communicating with kids, engaging them, not writing them off.”

These things, of course, didn’t matter. Because it was A Story. And sometimes – too often – we forget that A Story should have A Purpose.

This story, by a student who was helped by Charlotte Berry, is a story with a point, for example.

Credit to the head of Billericay School who responded pithily to the story as follows:

“The member of staff’s Twitter account appears to have been individually targeted, accessing conversations with friends unconnected with the school and taken completely out of context.

And credit to the newspaper for including that, albeit in the final paragraphs, and with comments now disabled. Although there are some interesting comments on the website’s forum

UPDATE: The forum has not approved any comments since Saturday evening – this post about the disconnect between print and online operations may explain why.

Comment on the story

Chart showing tweets mentioning talktoteens during Friday

Chart showing tweets mentioning talktoteens during Friday

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