How far is too far?

Published 9:13 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

Being a reporter often means asking questions you might not want to ask and even seeing things you don’t want to observe.

Just like any job, this position comes with its ups and downs. Oftentimes we are the observers in the room listening and taking down notes. We have no say in what’s happening before us, we just observe. And while most will argue that it is our job to report on everything, there are lines that are drawn even in our field.

Believe it or not there are ethics reporters are supposed to abide by from what we write, how we write it, right down to what photo is chosen for the front page. In J-School, I had a professor who would remind us that you never publish a photo that you would not be able to eat breakfast over.

Though there are many opinions and qualms about the role the media plays in our society, this fact remains the same: we’re all voyeurs to some point. Everyone in general is curious about what is going on in their community, with their friends, neighbors and even foes. And the media fulfills that curiosity.

Unfortunately, the media can at times exacerbate the issue, even perhaps, issues not deserving of being news. Sometimes that societal curiosity about what is going on in others’ lives can border on inappropriate.

Enter the world of social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) where any one with a computer, keyboard, mouse, smart phone or any other electronic device with Internet can make YOU, yes YOU, a reporter.

A quick log on to Facebook will give you essentially dozens of “reports” on family and friends on your news feed, from baby’s first steps to John Doe playing Farmville to Maryann’s status going from “in a relationship” to “single.”

Are these reports CNN-worthy? Not necessarily, but in our own little worlds they are important. For the most part on Twitter and Facebook we see statuses that our relevant to our lives, but what if a friend began to post about a stranger’s life. Would it be right for you to voyeur in, much less comment?

I recently read about Andy Boyle, a web developer for the Boston Globe, who posted a blow-by-blow report about a couple and their breakup on his Twitter page.

The couple just happened to be dining in the same restaurant as Boyle when their discussion about their disintegrating marriage got heated. Boyle kept his followers updated with statuses, photos and even videos of the couple’s discussion about cleaning, lying and cheating.

It all just struck a creepy chord with me. There’s a difference between overhearing a heated conversation and broadcasting it to the world.

But then again, the couple sat there in a public arena airing their dirty laundry.

It seems with social media we’ve lost our filter of what is appropriate to say or, more importantly, what we pay attention to.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.