John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My good friends

A colleague who is considering signing up on Facebook wonders whether there might be a journalistic conflict of interest. Once in, as I am, one will be writing about fellow bloggers and other writers who are also Facebook friends. Would this involve any compromise of integrity?

I suspect not, but I hadn’t considered the issue.

Keep in mind the elasticity of that word friend in the context of Facebook. It very nearly encompasses as many categories and individuals as John McCain’s ritual vocative “my friends” during last year’s presidential campaign.

Some of the 400-plus people I'm linked to on Facebook are, in fact, what one would call personal friends. Some are professional colleagues from The Sun, the American Copy Editors Society, and other newspapers; some are fellow teachers; some are my former students; some are fellow bloggers; and some are readers of my blog — the word fan sounds odd, I know — with whom I have scarcely any acquaintance but who asked to be "friended." So it would be a mistake to identify Facebook association with any particular degree of intimacy.

From my perspective, Facebook membership can indicate an association akin to the kind of praise and recommendation other bloggers and I already engage in by pointing out one another's work. Or to put it this way: If I were reviewing a book by an acquaintance, I would disclose that in the review and let the reader make appropriate judgments. I'm not sure that a Facebook association would be any more compromising. If you disagree, please comment.

Whether anyone would want to put up with the inane quizzes and other crap that Facebook throws at its members is a separate issue, as is toleration of friend as a verb.

11 comments:

  1. And if you accept friend as a verb, you must then live with de-friend. :-)

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  2. Whether anyone would want to put up with the inane quizzes and other crap that Facebook throws at its members is a separate issue... I tried Facebook for a few months. I took my page down. I found it to be the electronic equivalent of "empty calories".

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  3. Yeah, they could have used befriended.

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  4. I think the new Wall Street Journal policy on online activities offers some interesting points for reporters, especially, to think about. Should reporters "friend" sources and PR people they regularly deal with or who might suggest a political leaning?

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003972544

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  5. As to "friending" sources: Has a reporter ever had a personal conversation with a source, talked about family, mentioned preferences in movies or music, discussed where to get good Thai food? The difference between such conversations and Facebook exchanges is that the Facebook exchanges are available for public examination.

    Most of the WSJ principles about particpating in Twitter and Facebook appear to boil down to "Don't make an ass of yourself in public," which is good advice for journalists in all contexts.

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  6. For regional differentiation, barbecue may be substituted for Thai food in my previous comment.

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  7. I like "friending" for Facebook. Even "befriending" implies you actually know and like the person you're doing it to.

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  8. If "friend" can shift to accommodate the sort of social networking meaning, then surely "befriend" could have shifted with it. But it's too late now. The noun has been verbed.

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  9. Ah, but "I friended him" is shorter and more succinct: it means "on Facebook". With "befriended" you'd have had to add that qualifier.

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  10. Whether anyone would want to put up with the inane quizzes and other crap that Facebook throws at its members is a separate issue.

    That's the one part of Facebook I dislike.

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  11. friend (v) will be in the dictionary before too long

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