Social media guidelines for journalists

For the generation that came of age on Facebook, you might think there’s nothing they don’t already know about social media.

Think again.

  1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.
  2. Assume everything you write online will become public.
  3. Use social media to engage with readers, but professionally.
  4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.
  5. Beware of perceptions.
  6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.
  7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.
  8. Social networks are tools not toys.
  9. Be transparent and admit when you’re wrong online.
  10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.

Last week, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) released a 50-page PDF (download here) of “helpful guidelines for news organizations”: 10 Best Practices for Social Media. The list above appears on page 3.

What journalism students don’t know CAN hurt them, and I can guarantee that a lot of them don’t understand numbers 2, 4, 5, 9 and 10. The guide from ASNE provides a really nice way for each of the 10 points to be discussed in the classroom. For example:

Take caution in friending sources on Facebook. There’s some disagreement among editors about whether accepting or making “friend” requests is okay. … Another problem on Facebook is “likes” and “fan pages.” To watch Tim Pawlenty’s video that announced he was creating an exploratory committee for a presidential run — an important news story — reporters had to click a “like” button, which then generated an entry on their own Facebook page that they liked Pawlenty. But there was no other choice. (p. 9)

Yes, this generation lives on Facebook. No, they have not thought about the professional ramifications.

Here’s an example of something you might think would never happen in a top-class newsroom:

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller wanted to keep his staff in the loop about planning for a pay wall. At a meeting, though, several reporters tweeted what he said. They spilled the beans, which were quickly picked up by a myriad of blogs and other news organizations. What he said became a story, and then a subsequent chiding of the staff for tweeting led to more stories. Now the ground rules are clear at meetings. Reporters are expected not to tweet private deliberations. (p. 16)

Pages 17 – 50 provide the text of specific news organizations’ social media policies.

Update: See a sampling of reactions to the ASNE document, courtesy of Jack Lail (@jacklail).

3 Comments on “Social media guidelines for journalists

  1. Pingback: links for 2011-05-16 « Sarah Booker

  2. Thanks for this input, Mindy. I’ve been considering the implications of this generation “living” on Facebook. I’m certain that social networks didn’t anticipate the emergent behaviors of what they created. It’s obvious from their missteps in privacy controls and policy-making.

    What, I think, is the main challenge to news organizations now is how to transition to the role of a social peer. The friend “stream” has democratized what users see – whether from a friend or a news outlet – into what’s important to them.

    These rules seem to do a good job of starting the conversation around questions like “what is the correct context for this news story?”, or “what is the source of this news?”, “who does this news outlet represent in my circle of peers?”.

  3. Pingback: ASNE’s new social media guidelines - 10,000 Words

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