At VOA, journalists asked to tweet press releases


A little birdie told them: VOA employees asked to retweet releases from the agency’s PR shop. (Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images)

They’re being asked to use their Twitter accounts to disseminate news releases and the like generated by the Voice of America public relations shop — and that has them worried that they could wind up as mouthpieces for their employer’s messages.

Though the effort is being portrayed by the PR office as a way to promote VOA stories and get them wider play in the mainstream media (sounds innocent enough, right?), twitchy journos aren’t convinced.

The project, outlined in an e-mail, aims to boost “VOA’s communication with the outside media, generate pickups on good story elements, and to promote our projects and programs.”

It’s that last bit — “promoting” VOA’s initiatives — that seems to be most concerning to reporters, who understandably don’t care to use their own Twitter accounts to parrot their employer’s spin. Some are worried about spamming their Twitter followers with useless information. And they fear that being told what to tweet might compromise their journalistic impartiality.

The request came from an intern in the PR office, and it wasn’t framed as a demand. In fact, the message very kindly noted that the PR office was “asking for your cooperation” on the project. Still, some are taking it as a directive, and others as a potential slippery slope.

A Voice of America spokesman tells the Loop that “nobody’s being coerced” and that the initiative was simply intended to help far-flung VOA journalists share one another’s stories with a wider audience.

But VOA higher-ups know just how hard it is to control a message — even when it’s just delivered to their own people.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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