To tweet or not to tweet

Yesterday morning Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten asked readers an ethical question based on a true story — should a reporter ever smoke pot with a source? The question had a few details for readers to consider. The reporter didn’t smoke pot currently but had in his past, he was having trouble connecting with the source who was offering the pot and the sharing of the drug would help build up that trust. And, importantly, the Post has a policy that reporters should never do anything illegal while on the job.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t the most interesting journalism ethics issue I read about yesterday.

That honor goes to another issue that arose from a Boston Globe reporter attending a funeral.

Myra Kraft, the late wife of New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, died recently and there was a funeral at her temple. Reporters went to the funeral service. One of them tweeted live updates from the location. He says that he didn’t tweet during the service — only before and after — but concedes that maybe he should have not done so from within the temple.

Jim Romenesko has excerpts from a radio show where reporter Ian Rapaport defended himself:

While I was there to pay respects to Myra Kraft, I was there as a reporter going to write a story on the funeral, on the service, which I did. So you know, what I want to do every time is bring timely newsworthy information to readers and followers and whoever else, basically in every way that’s available, and so I tweet a lot.

I didn’t tweet once [the service] began. The only thing that I’m sort of still thinking about that I think is difficult for some people to wrap their head around is I was inside the building. I was physically in the temple. …Maybe it might have been better to step outside in the reporter area, communicate the news that way and then go back in. I just didn’t want to lose my seat. So maybe that’s something if I could do it again I would consider physically where I was. I was in my seat. Would it have been better if I was in the hallway, in the doorway? I’m not sure, but those are the kind of things I’m thinking about.

What do you think? What principles should guide reporters when they attend religious services?

In my Lutheran church, tweeting or any cell phone use would be strictly verboten. We post a sign saying as much to people entering our sanctuary. But I’ve definitely attended services where such behavior is not only not frowned upon but encouraged. I think it’s even a trend in evangelical circles right now.

The standards of each congregation will vary. But I’m not entirely sure I see a problem with live tweeting the funeral of a public person per se. How is it different than broadcasting it? Is it that it seems more intrusive?

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  • Elijah

    My evangelical church asks everyone to silence their phones, and I can assure you we feel the same way as your Lutheran church!

    Been to plenty of churches – Lutheran, Methodist, and evangelical – where kids from 12-18 texted like crazy all through the service.

  • Jason Stambaugh

    I love the Olive Tree Bible Reader and Evernote. The two of them are essential during church and conveniently they both work on my ipad and android phone. I also will look things up during the service. All of these things enhance my spiritual experience on Sunday morning and are encouraged.

    That said, incessant tweeting has always annoyed me. When I go to conferences or some church events, I’m shocked by the number of people banging out quotes on twitter from their smartphones. For the average twitter user this is completely unnecessary and takes away from fully experiencing the event. I’m not sure you add much value to your followers by regurgitating information.

    A couple of tweets from the reporter would have sufficed.

  • bob smietana

    Tweeting and other social media are pretty common in megachurches and nondenominational churches here in Nashville. Went to a church recently that’s been accused of being cultlike and controlling, and in the back row, people were Tweeting and Facebooking

  • Bill

    Are there such things as sacred spaces anymore? (Try to tweet at the Supreme Court.) If a reporter is talking to a source, should he tweet in mid-conversation? Was the news he tweeted so urgent that it couldn’t have waited until after the funeral? And how can you get a sense of what is going on if you’re not paying attention? Are press credentials a license to be rude? But at least Mr. Rappaport is asking those questions.

  • Joe

    I think this reporter was in the wrong. It is one thing to broadcast a funeral. The presence of the camera can be physically non-intrusive and non-disruptive. It is another thing to sit in a pew in the sanctuary and tweet. It is disrespectful. The fact that a reporter area was set up out outside the Temple should have been a pretty large clue that reporting from inside the Temple was not proper.

    She was a quasi-public figure and it was legitimate to cover the funeral but it was not a press conference. The pews were for those who wanted to pay their respects – not those who wanted a better view of the “show.”

  • Sara

    My phone stays in my purse, silenced, during worship services, funerals, weddings, etc. The only time I’ve used social media during church was a couple of Sundays ago. Our early service doesn’t have pews with handy pens in holders, and my baby had taken my pens out of my purse. I wanted to take notes during the sermon, but didn’t want to walk from my seat to the back of the church during the sermon to get a pen. So, I pulled out my phone and posted my notes in a Facebook note that was mostly for my own benefit.

  • T Stanton

    I guess that sort of begs the question, “Was the funeral broadcast?”

    If the funeral was formally covered via any media – then I don’t think live tweeting or blogging would be an issue. But then, bloggers or broadcasters aren’t really participating in the service, they’re documenting the service.

    If there is no formal media coverage of a religious service and a journalist joins the service under the auspices of participation – it would seem bad form to blog/tweet what was happening.

    In the same way, it’s bad form for the tweens/teens/20somethings at my church who need to have their hands tied behind their backs when they’re listening to a sermon. They need to learn how to ignore poor preaching, bad exegesis, and faulty logic quietly and unobtrusively like the rest of us adults. Either that – or crayons.

  • Jerry

    The standards of each congregation will vary. But I’m not entirely sure I see a problem with live tweeting the funeral of a public person per se. How is it different than broadcasting it? Is it that it seems more intrusive?

    Some questions:

    First, common decency means that you don’t tweet unless you’ve checked ahead of time or something truly newsworthy happened.

    Second, if you believe that tweeting is covering something that absolutely, positively can’t wait, check ahead of time and find a location that’s as isolated and private as possible to avoid distraction.

    Third, is that tweet really news in the serious, classical sense, or just babbling on about nothing important? If it’s not news, as so many tweets are, then don’t do it.

    Fourth, be sensitive to those around you. Some people have wonderful powers of concentration, but I’m distracted by too much motion. When I go to a concert of early music where everyone is concentrating on the musician, a lot of motion is annoying. A funeral calls for much more discrimination than a early music concert.

    Finally, if I was attending a funeral of a loved one and someone near me started tweeting, I’d have a hard time avoiding the temptation to smash the phone into the tweeter’s face. So please don’t tempt me.

  • MikeL

    Bill’s question about sacred spaces really get to the heart of the matter, and I’m glad Mr Rapaport is at least considering whether or not tweeting from inside a sacred space is wrong.

    I think this actually could extend to non-electronic devices, as the principle is the same (although less distracting to others). Wouldn’t writing a letter or reading a People magazine in a temple or church also violate the sacredness of the place?

  • Marie

    Bill’s comment about sacred spaces is curtail, add to that the view of those whose sacred space it is. What is considered appropriate in one faith may not be appropriate in another. A journalist should determine the policy of the Temple/Church/Mosque. It is their sacred space so their definition of appropriate behavior is what matters. If a journalist doesn’t know the preference of the venue then they should ere on the side of courtesy.Common sense says that when in doubt, don’t.

  • Ann Rodgers

    I once texted my editor from a Mass that I was attending as an individual, but which the paper was interested in. (I think the bishop was defying doctor’s orders to be there, and we wanted to report on whether he could walk). I was seated next to relatives who know what I do for a living, so it wasn’t a problem. It’s routine at the local cathedral to have photographers roaming the aisles, and there’s a huge platform for TV cameras that’s in the line-of-sight for at least half the people there. I doubt that texting or tweeting is any more disturbing than traditional note-taking, with its rattling pages. But I’d hesitate to so from a funeral if I wasn’t seated in a “media pew.”

  • tioedong

    Texting/tweeting during a service? Why, was there some “earth shattering” revelation that needed to be put into the headlines ASAP?

    FYI: Here in the rural Philippines, our Catholic church has a sign saying turn off cellphones.

    It’s because everyone has a cellphone and texting is a national passtime. The ban is to keep the teenagers from texting each other during the service…

  • Cathy G.

    I can see some merit in “live-blogging” a funeral of a famous person – but the tweeter really should get permission first.

    My church did a “text offering” for Japan earthquake relief a few months ago – first time I’ve ever used my cellphone during a service!

  • Stephen A.

    I’m wondering what was so important that it couldn’t wait. If it truly was something needed immediately, then there’s a reason for it and it’s fine to tweet. But if it’s just to say what amounts to, “I’m here at the funeral,” or some other in-the-moment comment (for which twitter is admittedly well suited) then it seems a bit juvenile and unnecessary.

    The rules of the religious body or building in which one was seated trumps any decision of the reporter, who by his own admission in this case could have gone to a well-marked reporter’s area outside.

    As has been noted, live-blogging an event would be a clear exception to any objection to using a phone for texting or using social networks.

  • Joe

    Unless she came back from the dead in the middle of the service, I have a really hard time seeing how anything could have been so important that it couldn’t wait until the service was over (or the few minutes it would have taken to walk to the clearly marked press area).

    What was the content? We keep talking about it in the abstract, but what was tweeted? Was it really pressing information?

  • kjs

    Maybe we should ask whether Twitter is an appropriate journalistic medium in the first place.