Journalists’ use of social media

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) has put out a very simple list of social media guidelines for its journalists and staff to follow:

  1. Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
  2. Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
  3. Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
  4. Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Posted Nov. 5, 2009

These seem sensible to me. They’re so straightforward, you might think no self-respecting journalist needs guidelines such as these. But they are also valuable for what they do not say.

When The Washington Post disseminated its new guidelines for social media use (posted Sept. 27, 2009), much discussion ensued. Steve Buttry, for example, wrote:

The Post’s top editors need to start using Twitter and other social media more, so they can lead on these issues from a position of understanding, rather than ignorance.

I found myself agreeing with Steve when I read The Post’s guidelines:

When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. … This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. (Sept. 27, 2009)

The ABC’s guidelines indicate that management regards ABC journalists and staff as responsible professionals. The Washington Post guidelines indicate a lack of respect for the intelligence and integrity of the organization’s journalists.

13 Comments on “Journalists’ use of social media

  1. I think less is definitely more when it comes to social media guidelines. As far as “do we even need guidelines?” goes, I think they’re valuable to have just as declarations of where a news org stands. For instance, I’m definitely less inclined to want to work for or consume content from the Washington Post, but I feel the exact opposite about NPR.

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  3. I do not object to an organization’s making a list of guidelines for how social media may or may not be used. But treating your journalists as if they were idiots? Not a good way to go about it.

  4. The ABC deserves credit for basically saying “We know you all have common sense, but just in case, here’s the deal.”

    Less is definitely more when it comes to guidelines, especially in something like new media or social media, which is still a work in progress.

  5. Hi Mandy,
    I think the Washington Post has it right, especially with their environment of highly political readership in the DC area. The WP already has problems with coming across as too liberal, and I think transparent Twitter accounts will only further that portrayal. If I see that a WP journalist is following a high number of liberals and not many conservatives, I would carry that info with me as I read their next article.

    I glanced over at Dan Gillmor’s post on the matter and had a chance to read your comment about how you think there’s no such thing as objectivity. I’d like to think journalism needs objectivity. The role of a high profile paper like the WP isn’t to tell us what to think, but to rather give us the accounts of proceedings and let us think for ourselves. Right?

  6. I agree with the first approach. having crafted social media guidelines for a news organization, myself, what I found helpful as did the recipients were concrete examples of the desired outreach and what we’d like to see form our staff. That is another option to consider. It’s not always about what you can’t do, but what you can.

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  8. I think guidelines are good but I also feel these are things journalists should already know and be aware of when they are reporting on a story.

    I also think there should be guidelines for the big businesses.

    I feel that journalists start out their careers ready to take on the world and uncover all the corruption the world has to offer but then something happens when you get into the real world of journalism, big businesses own the news stations, newspapers and radio stations, so then there are the people at the top of the company who do not want certain stories to leek because they could hurt the PR of their business.
    So then reporters have to ask themselves the question do you follow your heart and take the story somewhere else and lose your job or do you suck it up and skip that story and move onto the next.

    This is not fair to the public or the journalists. So maybe they need guidelines too!

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