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Digital doorstepping and the death knock : ethical issues surrounding the use of social networking sites in reporting personal tragedy

Duncan, Sallyanne (2009) Digital doorstepping and the death knock : ethical issues surrounding the use of social networking sites in reporting personal tragedy. In: Future of Journalism Conference, 2009-09-10 - 2009-09-11. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Social networking sites are now used as a standard newsgathering tool by journalists. As well as helping the reporter to find sources, they also offer an accessible supply of quotes and pictures. As a result they are particularly useful in the reporting of personal tragedy where bereaved relatives and friends may be unwilling to speak to the media. This trend could be interpreted as a form of virtual or digital doorstepping, which like the traditional method, has connotations of intrusion. Using data collected from questionnaires and interviews mostly with journalists of five years or less experience, this paper explores journalists’ attitudes to using these sites in reporting personal traumatic events, the manner in which they use them and the ethical issues that arise from their use. In particular it will examine whether journalists consider them to be more or less intrusive than traditional approaches and whether they use these sites to limit contact with the bereaved, thus avoiding some of the ethical and stress-related concerns present in reporting personal tragedy. In conclusion, it will attempt to assess the benefits and harms of a probable, increased usage of social networking sites in the intrusive reporting process.