Who owns a journalist’s Twitter account?

BBC News political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg built up a large following on Twitter with her mix of news, commentary and colour.

Her move to ITV News in September has raised questions over who “owns” the almost 60,000 people who follow @BBCLauraK.

The Guardian suggests that “rather than handing her old account login back to the BBC to start from scratch with a new ITV account, the sensible thing to do is to change the name of the account.”

But it looks like Kuenssberg will be starting from scratch, with the Twitter handle, @ITVLauraK.

Ironically, the announcement was made by Kuenssberg on her BBC Twitter account.

Social media creates an opportunity for journalists to interact on a personal level with audiences.

Even if an account is branded as a “BBC” journalist, it blurs the traditional barrier between the professional and personal as tweets tend to reflect the personality of the reporter.

It marks a further step in the shift from the institutional to the individual brand of the journalist, identified by the State of the Media report in 2009:

Through search, e-mail, blogs, social media and more, consumers are gravitating to the work of individual writers and voices, and away somewhat from institutional brand.

Social media provides journalists with a way to connect and interact with audiences in a more personal and direct way than through traditional news products.

But there is an unresolved tension between the journalist and the institution, especially on Twitter, which as Jemima Kiss points out, is designed for individuals to communicate.

Media institutions may have to accept that they cannot own the Twitter accounts of their reporters.  The journalist may need to switch to a new account, as Kuenssberg will be doing, but they are likely to take their following with them.

5 Comments

  • June 24, 2011

    Martin Belam

    I’ve seen lots of debate about what the BBC and ITV might want and expect from the switch. I’ve seen very little debate about what Laura’s followers might actually want, and how they expect to be treated. You know, them, the audience.

  • June 24, 2011

    Tim Weber

    I’m only guessing here, but Laura’s account was what we call an “official” BBC account, not a personal account that mentioned that she is with the BBC. It was “complied” (i.e. monitored by an editor) and set up for the purpose of delivering BBC journalism.

    Hence she was was @BBCLauraK, not plain old @LauraK.

    You can see the difference most clearly with Rory Cellan-Jones’ accounts – his personal @ruskin147 and the official @BBCRoryCJ.

    My account @tim_weber is a personal, non-BBC account … and thus would remain my account were I to leave the Beeb.

  • June 24, 2011

    Alfred Hermida

    Good question Martin. Did people follow her due of her position at the BBC, the content of her messages or because they liked her reporting style? I wonder how many people who follow Laura will switch to her ITV account, especially since her beat has changed from politics to business.

    And that’s a good point Tim. But as a member of the BBC, you still represent the BBC on your personal account. It also means that followers might see you as representing the BBC, even though it is a personal account. This is where social media blurs well established distinctions between personal and professional activities.

  • June 24, 2011

    Kevin Scherrer

    As a journalist you make a lot of contacts with news sources etc, and when you meet these people you give them a business card with your current employer’s name on it. That contact is yours and I think you get to take that “Rolodex” with you when you change companies. Why would a twitter account be any different?

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