I've thought about writing this a few times before, but this is a sensitive one.
I don't want to come across as humorless. I love to laugh. I think laughter is important in life. It's why I have quotes like this one on my "Inspirational Quotes" Pinterest board. I also follow journalists who I think do a fine job combining humor with their reporting like Elise Foley.
And really, who doesn't enjoy laughing? Who doesn't like making other people laugh?
That said, a "journalist" has a serious job. Some duties: relay critical information in a timely manner, hold public leaders accountable, serve the general public. These are some of the reasons I went into journalism in the first place and they're not the most hilarious things in the world.
Why then is Twitter so often filled with snark? So many jokes from journalists? Sometimes about serious matters, but supplemented with wit, puns and creativity?
In one sense, you could argue part of a journalist's job, especially certain kinds of journalists, is to entertain. Some editorial operations do seek to make people laugh, like The Onion. This very site has a Comedy vertical.
Humor can be a great way to connect with others. It can make us feel less alone. On Twitter, jokes can lead to more retweets and engagement.
As CJR put it in a piece on how journalists can get greater exposure on Twitter:
4. Make more jokes! Twitter is the perfect place for the sort of side-of-the-mouth commentary you find yourself making at happy hour to your coworkers. You'll probably have to edit it somewhat before you click "Tweet," but hey, isn't that your job?
There are BuzzFeed editors who are just amazing at this. This is a compliment for BuzzFeed - the way they balance humor and serious news. Not every news site is BuzzFeed though. Not every journalist is a comedian; few are, in fact.
And yet, journalists joke a lot on Twitter. If everyone else they're following is snarky, and the general public is silly on Twitter, why can't journalists be too? In a way, it's part of the platform, to fire pithy, hilarious, sometimes random tweets.
One study, "Journalists, Social Media, and the Use of Humor on Twitter," found that nearly a quarter (22.5 percent) of the most-followed journalists' tweets involve humor.
But words can have consequences. If you make the wrong joke at the wrong time, maybe you don't even intend to come across a certain way but it does anyway, you can be in a lot of trouble.
Mathew Ingram wrote about this topic for GigaOm under the headline, "Why can't we just admit that journalists are human?" He argues that journalists should be able to show their human side:
Are some journalists going to say offensive or even stupid things? Of course they are. Everyone does. So should a single remark that someone makes on Twitter, or over an open microphone, disqualify them from ever being able to practice journalism? Even a veteran newsman like Sam Donaldson doesn't think so.
What do you think? Are journalists joking too much on Twitter? Is there too much snark? During some events, especially some serious events, I wonder if this may be the case. But I haven't made up my mind. So I open this up to others, and hopefully we can have a discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
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