This often feels like a moral or ethical debate, sometimes played out in caricature on Twitter itself. But the question of how to get your readers to trust you, in my view, isn’t really moral; it’s tactical, and empirical. Part of the reason reporters use social media is about sources. Some reporters elicit information from sources by keeping their cards close to their chests. Others develop sources on social media by broadcasting their views and finding allies. But newsroom conversations about bias and trust tend, oddly, to leave out the audience. So last week, I persuaded a polling firm, Morning Consult, to survey Americans on, more or less, the question of whether we should all shut up on social media.
The findings were mixed. Asked directly whether “journalists have a responsibility to keep their opinions private, even on their personal social media,” a majority of those polled agreed, by a margin of almost 2-1.
But the details of the poll of 3,423 people, with a margin of error of 2 percent, show deeper division. Given the choice between two alternatives, 41 percent agreed with the statement, “I trust journalists more if they keep their political and social views private,” while 36 percent agreed with the opposite statement, “I trust journalists more if they are open and honest about their political and social views.”
The responses weren’t uniform across groups. More of those who identified themselves as Black than those in other groups said they’d trust journalists more if they knew what the journalists thought, while conservatives were more likely than liberals to trust journalists who keep their views private.
Other survey responses suggested that, perhaps, just perhaps, journalists are living on a more Twitter-obsessed planet than normal people. When the pollsters showed a version of a tweet from Ms. Wolfe that caused her Twitter trouble, the muddled response made it clear that ordinary Americans had no idea what the fuss was about.
Newsrooms might benefit from acknowledging that some of what appears to be debates about Twitter is more about their own corporate identities and choices. Ms. Wolfe told me that while she thought The Times had been unfair in how it characterized her dismissal, she also didn’t object to the paper’s choosing to have a social media policy. “The solution for me is to not work at a place where I have to pretend that I don’t have opinions,” she said.
The other, and perhaps more ominous, tension for the big newsrooms is the one that Mr. Carr spotted in 2012. Social media has shifted the balance of power in the same direction it has long been moving in everything from entertainment to sports: away from management and big brands, and toward the people who used to be called reporters, but now sometimes get referred to as “talent.” Reporters have every incentive to build big social media followings. It’s a path to television contracts, book deals, job offers and raises. And that can be in tension with what their employers want. (In case you’re interested, here are the Times reporters with more than 500,000 Twitter followers, ranked: Maggie Haberman, Marc Stein, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jenna Wortham, Peter Baker and Nikole Hannah-Jones.)