How Should Journalists Use Facebook?

Q. I’ve begun using Facebook as a networking tool. Should I or should I not fill out my personal info page? It contains information such as favorite TV shows, favorite music, etc.

Also, how small should I keep my Facebook circle of friends? Everyone around me seems to have upwards of 200 friends. That seems like a lot for business purposes.

Finally, should I add real friends as friends on Facebook, or should I only use Facebook for business-related contacts?

Friend or Foe?

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A. These are some good questions.

1. Be cautious about your personal information. You’re a journalist. Politics, activism, religion — anything that might appear to compromise your ability to get or tell a fair story — doesn’t belong on a Facebook page. It’s OK, though, if you like “Casa Blanca” and want to say as much.

2. Don’t be concerned about the number of Facebook friends you have. That’s an artificial limiter. I know one journalist who will friend only people she is actually friends with. That makes sense to me. The more friends you have in your Facebook network, the stronger it will be. But the more strangers you have in there, the riskier it can be.

3. Think twice about friending sources on your beat. Facebook can be a great way to reach sources — many people now prefer Facebook messages to e-mails. But think about the implication. Do you want to be Facebook friends with the chief of police? How about a crooked contractor? And do you stay Facebook buddies when your stories send the contractor to jail? Or worse, when someone else’s investigation puts him there? Be judicious. Look into using Facebook for friends and LinkedIn for business connections.

Whichever way you go, acquaintances may ask to be connected through one of these social media sites and you’ll feel pressure to accept. You’ll seem aloof or snooty if you reject requests.

What about you? Please help us out by commenting about your experience with social media sites. How have they helped? What are the risks?

Coming Thursday: Employed full-time as a reporter, she is worried about waves of layoffs and wants to build a Plan B. Freelancing would be one way. How can she get started?

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