Doing so has claimed more than a few careers.
CNN correspondent Diana Magnay was recently reassigned from her post covering the Israel-Gaza war after tweeting that a group of Israelis, who were cheering missile attacks on Gaza, were “scum”.
Another casualty was CNN Mideast affairs senior editor Octavia Nasr, who was sacked following her tweet in praise of a Hezbollah leader.
The Age columnist Catherine Deveny was also fired after her controversial Logies night tweets, including one about child star Bindi Irwin.
Declaring an opinion opposes the aims of fourth estate journalism, which demands journalists inform without bias, and be neutral and objective in reporting the facts. The public trusts this impartiality.
So although it’s impossible for journalists to be completely objective, publicly taking sides calls into question the journalist’s ability to fairly report the story.
And it’s even worse when this opinion is aired on social media.
Twitter and Facebook have become integral to reporting news. Journalists have been encouraged to engage with readers on social media to promote their stories, break news and gather information. Fairfax Media even set Twitter targets for their entertainment reporters.
The problem is that social media makes it easy for journalists to unburden their thoughts free from editor scrutiny. They fall into the trap of thinking personal accounts with disclaimers are “safe”.
But because journalists and social media are so integrated, a journalist’s personal views aired in public cannot be divorced from their work. Not only does it erode public trust in the journalist, but also in their employer.
And news outlets have been fiercely protective of their reputation.
An internal CNN memo said Nasr was sacked because her “credibility” as Middle-East affairs senior editor “has been compromised”.
To mitigate the risk, most media organisations now have social media policies in place.
Any behaviour at odds with these standards has become legitimate grounds for dismissal.
This media self-regulation recognises that journalists have a strong influence on public debate through social media. A journalist helps others form opinions, which is why they must be careful when expressing their own.
But for the sake of reputation – theirs and their employer’s – it’s better to say nothing and avoid the damaging smear of bias.
The stakes are too high.
This article was also published on City Journal Online on 12 September 2014.