The ethics of Twitter with David

24 Apr

As the public opinion of journalist changes in this era filled with doubts of legitimacy and accusations of fake news, so too much journalist change their methods to prove to the public that they can be trusted.

David Fahrenthold, a Washington Post reporter who covered Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and now covers Trump’s administration said the biggest ethical challenge he’s faced in these changing times is how to tell the story of a side that wouldn’t talk to him.

While covering the Trump campaign Fahrenthold started investigating Trump’s charitable contributions.  He wanted to see if Trump actually donated what he claimed.

The problem, as Fahrenthold put it, was balance. The Trump campaign refused to respond to request for comment. Fahrenthold said that in order to give the public the clearest view possible, he had to try something new.

“You can’t just say we’re the Washington Post, trust us,” said Farenthold.

Fahrenthold had a novel idea. He would post every step he took during his investigation of Trump on Twitter.

When he started calling charities – every charity Trump ever claimed to have donated to, he would post pictures of his notebook.

Since the Trump campaign refused to answer questions, Fahrenthold started posting the questions he asked, along with any answers or lack of answers on Twitter was well.

“They’ve seen the questions we’ve asked, the lengths we’ve gone to, this is why we deserve your readership,” said Fahrenthold.

Editors at the Washington Post were supportive of the idea, even enthusiastic but Fahrenthold didn’t consult them before he started doing it. He just, started doing it.

There were unexpected benefits to the level of transparency Fahrenthold established.

That benefit was a new level of crowd-sourced help. Oftentimes Fahrenthold would be stuck, at a dead end with no idea where to look. According Fahrenthold, we’re bound by the systems we know, our sources and our experiences. With such a large population on Twitter though, people with different context and ideas were able to find things he couldn’t.

A notable example was when he was looking for a reason why the Donald J. Trump Foundation donated exactly $7 to the Boy Scouts in 1989.

Fahrenthold said he was lost as to why such a small, specific amount would be donated. Then, thanks to Twitter a lady contacted him and told him that was the cost of membership in the Boy Scouts in 1989.

Donald Trump had used his charity to pay for his son’s scout membership fee.

“The entire life of his charity he thought of his charity as just another pocket to use,” said Fahrenthold.

Of course, there is a ying to every yang and transparency is no different. Fahrenthold said one of the bigger challenges is not tipping your hand too much

Some information is only available from so many people, and journalist need to be careful that they don’t accidentally reveal their sources.

“You can’t show people what you think you know because you can’t tip your hand.” said Fahrenthold. “I have to watch what I say on social media.”

Despite the challenges Fahrenthold believes that new levels of transparency are a must going forward and will better journalism.

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