By Sarah Millar
I'll be the first to tell you no one in my profession is perfect. Journalists are only human after all, and as such are prone to making mistakes.
However, that doesn't give us a free pass to make them. Nor do I see any reason why, as journalists, we cannot better ourselves. So, for those who have yet to make them, here are five New Year's resolutions journalists should make in 2011.
1. You are what you tweet
Twitter can be used for many wonderful things, but it can also sadly be a career-killer. For some, it's tweeting an opinion that can get them into trouble (like CNN's Octavia Nasr who was canned after tweeting she was "sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot."). Journalists must remember what you say on Twitter is public. Then there are the premature death reports: Like Gordon Lightfoot or Pat Burns' premature death. In today's media-saturated world, we all want to be first. But it's better to be right than first.
2. I will spell check before I post
Another thing that can be filed under the "better to be right than first." Everyone makes typos, and they're especially easy to make when you're banging away on a story that's breaking that your web editor wants like right now! and you're typing like a madman. Do us all a favour, if you don't have time for someone else to edit it, at least let your spell checker do its job. There's no need for foolish mistakes.
3. I will talk to real people
Social media is a wonderful invention. It's given journalists an unprecedented way to find sources. However, too many use it as their only source. Social-media sourcing can never replace leaving the newsroom and talking to people on the street (sometimes you stumble into a story you never expected when you report it the old-fashioned way). Sure, there are the online reaction stories that call for Twitter and Facebook quoting, but if it's about a murder, go talk to the neighbours face-to-face.
4. I will find something to do that's not work
It's not just journalists bringing their work home with them, people in every profession are finding it hard to leave it behind. A New York Times article from last August said multitasking is causing more journalists to burn out younger than ever before. So in 2011, turn off the BlackBerry and do something outside of the office. It could be joining a sports league, or starting a class in a subject that interests you. Whatever it is, it's three hours a week that you can make just yours. Three hours where you aren't on your email and on call. You'll be a better journalist if you're refreshed.
5. Join the conversation
Are you on Twitter? Facebook? Tumblr? Do you blog? If not, why not make 2011 the year you start? The web is the future of our industry, so you better catch on if you want to hang on. Older journos, this applies to you as much as to the young journalists out there. Think it's too much to grasp? Have someone who gets it and already does it walk you through it. We web-types are quite friendly, if I do say so myself. As for younger journalists? If you don't have a full-time writing gig yet, blogging is a great way to keep writing while you work away at your day job. And keep it up even after you get that coveted full-time job — writing for yourself can be a great escape from the deadline pressures of work.