Newsroom Social Media Policies

After reviewing the Associated Press' social media guidelines and the guidelines of at least several other major news organizations (see links on class schedule to those of The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Reuters and NPR), please comment below on 1.) at least one policy point that you strongly disagree with and believe should be removed from the guidelines; 2.) a policy point that you think should be added to one of the newsroom guidelines. A few strong paragraphs defending your comment should suffice.


Allison said...
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Allison said...

Overall, NPR's social media guidelines are very useful and offer a reasonable approach to a challenging ethical subject. However, I think the policy's section on "honesty" can be removed or rewritten. Here, the guidelines say, "Even on purely recreational or cultural sites and even if what we’re doing is personal and not identified as coming from someone at NPR, we understand that what we say and do could still reflect on NPR."

This particular statement seems overreaching. While it is true that the things a journalist does in his/her personal time can present the perception of a conflict of interest, I think it is important to consider how the industry has moved away from such strict restrictions on personal time.

Many news organizations are moving further away from content based on strict objectivity and closer to unfiltered or unedited information. While there are some consequences of this approach to journalism, not all are negative. For example, one can argue that unedited comments from a reporter, or any person of the news industry, helps to present news from a less bureaucratic editorial structure and may therefore facilitate a sharing of ideas more in line with democratic thought.

Because social media has shifted how we communicate in our democracy--by offering a publishing platform for just about anyone with Internet access--- it would seem more realistic for NPR to completely remove restrictions on personal online accounts.

Jason Ruiter said...

I disagree with the lack of personal rights in AP’s guideline and I would add an entire section on expressing views, which I don’t think should be completely forbidden. The Washington Post’s Social Guidelines are far more lenient on their “ Social Media” section.

In the beginning of AP’s guideline it immediately says, “Employees may not include political affiliations in their profiles and should not make any postings that express political views.” Not surprising. But just a few paragraphs above they recommended “one account per network that you use both personally and professionally.” After saying that your account is both personal and professional, they tell you not to express anything personal.
Overall, the guideline was conservative in terms of risk and journalistic practice—protect their reputation and give the impression of being unbiased. However, what if someone is an editorialist? What if they want to comment on an issue that they feel passionate about? Their profession should not deprive them of their first amendment right.

The section I would add would detail the limitations of expressing personal views. It would go something like this: 1) Express views that are not part of the reporter’s beat 2) support these views with facts, if possible 3) specify that it is an opinion independent of the profession 4) forbid any lewd remarks, provoking diatribes, and offensive language 5) moderate the text of your personal view with the knowledge that it could reflect negatively on your employer and by association, fellow workers. Just because you are employee does not mean you have lost your right to express your views; contrariwise, it also means that the views you express must be professional.

Washington Post’s “ Social Media” section has similar guidelines. In short, to exclude racist and other similar inflammatory remarks, maintain credibility and professionalism.

Soongy12 said...

While AP's social media guidelines are very thorough and fair for the most part, there are some outdated rules that I believe are no longer applicable.

The AP guidelines state that "a retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you're relaying" and goes on to list examples of retweets.

However, a retweet now shows the photo and Twitter handle of the original user which clearly shows that reader that the tweet does not belong to you.

Additionally, I think AP should've included guidelines on newer social media programs such as Pinterest and Instagram. I believe the two programs are different enough to warrant a separate mention.

For example, would a reporter be allowed to comment on a politician's picture on Instagram on his or her private account? Would pinning a friend's photo who works at a competing organization be frowned upon?

Other thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised by AP's guideline on friending and following sources that states extending and accepting friend requests is acceptable. I know this has been a point of ethical discussion and I have argued that it is a good way to get in touch with sources and I'm glad to know that AP appears to agree with me.

Julia said...

Instagram is a photo editing social media tool that has grown in popularity since it was launched in October 2010. Recently, I have been scrolling through my twitter feed and seeing news organizations and reporters posting photos using instagram. The ethical question of altering pictures with different filters and special effects came up during our Introduction to Multimedia class over the summer. One of the questions addressed whether we believed there was a point at which a photograph became artwork and lost its journalistic purpose. I always think back to that class discussion when I see a picture posted that clearly has a border added, has been split in three parts or has been enhanced with a color filter.

Here is an example of one sports news organization using instagram that I encountered this weekend.

Here is another example, this time of an example NBC Newsusing Instagram to enhance a photo.

Poynter published an article about what journalists should know about Instagram, and quoted Ryan Osborn, senior director of digital media at NBC News, about the organization’s use of Instagram. The article notes that NBC News was among the first news organizations to create an Instagram account.

“We never want to change the context of any kind of image...The most important thing is that the image stays true to the story being told,” he said.

The AP’s own employees use Instagram to cover stories out on the field but as this short video explains, they use the grid feature but refrain from using color filters because it conflicts their ethical policies. The practice is not outlined in the policy, which was revised in July 2012.

Personally, I like when feature stories include instagram photos and I would welcome more of them from reporters and news organizations publishing soft news stories. As a classmate and I discussed over lunch, however, it would be inappropriate to post breaking stories, (such as a political scandal or military action abroad) using the sepia filter.

What does the class think? Is Instagram ethical for a news organization?

ymshah09 said...

I think it's important for news organizations to keep their ethics guidelines or codes of conduct up to date to include guidelines on social media engagement. While it's impressive that AP has covered so many bases in their social media guidelines, it seems a bit contradictory. On the one hand, by having these guidelines, they are encouraging, as cited in the document, reporters to have a social media presence, but are also making it difficult for them to use it in breaking news situations.

One guideline that I find restrictive pertains to exclusive material. The guidelines state "AP news services must have the opportunity to publish exclusive text, photo and video material before it appears on social networks." While I can understand that AP wants the organization to come before any one reporters personal branding, I think that contradicts their desire to be the first to get breaking news. Yes, it's important for the news organization to get credit and yes the story would give the media context. However, what good is it to tweet a link to a full story after a reporter at the competing news organization has already tweeted it? I think they should allow reporter's to post exclusive material and then of course have them follow up with a link to the full story on AP once it's up. To me, that makes more sense in a world where getting it first means everything.

One aspect of AP's guidelines that I think the other organizations could take a note from, was the clear policy on Facebook friending. This is often a sticky wicket for journalists and can lead to awkward situations when a source sends a friend request. AP's clear cut policy on allowing the friending of sources, politicians and newsmakers for news purposes is helpful. It is also nice to see them have a very clear cut policy on how to handle comments from readers/followers on Facebook and Twitter, which I think the other organizations could also adopt.

Lucas High said...

The L.A. Times' social media policy includes a passage that says, "Be aware of perceptions. If you “friend” a source or join a group on one side of a debate. While I agree with the underlying sentiment regarding the importance of perception (specifically the perception of objectivity), I think in practice this policy would be nearly impossible to implement.

If a busy reporter is working on deadline and scouring social media for sources, he or she can't be expected to stop what they're doing in order to find someone on the other side of the issue to "friend." That just not productive.

In the interest of erring on the side of caution, if I were the Times (or any publication), I would ask that my employees include a sentence in their social media profile that expressly states that the account belongs to the individual reporter and does not necessarily reflect the views of the paper.

WildeJessica said...

AP's social media guidelines are impressive in their depth, but I think that's also going to out-date them pretty quickly. They will have to update their guidelines every time a new feature comes out on Facebook, or a new social media tool is used in newsrooms.

There is one particular portion that I think should be changed--"liking" on Facebook. The word "like" implies that you endorse something, but the way the feature is used is simply to follow something. That is what journalists do to sources, or companies do to competitors. It doesn't mean you like the politician or product. It simply means you want to be kept informed. If Facebook changed the word "Like" to "Follow," the guidelines could change and become more realistic. I think they should change regardless.

I also think it's odd that AP encourages "personal" accounts, but puts so many limits on them that they're hardly personal. They are simply a way of branding reporters for AP's benefit. That should be clear. It is becoming popular for reporters to have their own "personalities"--blogs, bios, tweets, etc. USA Today, for example, is beginning to add more information about their reporters on each story, as we learned on our tour. Readers like following particular people. The guidelines should express that clearly, and teach reporters how to brand themselves without calling their accounts "personal."

VoyeurLawyer said...

I agreed with Reuters “Reporting From the Internet And Using Social Media” specifically regarding open-mindedness. Reuters policy says that “We expect our journalists to reach conclusions through reporting, but they must also demonstrate the intellectual discipline to keep their conclusions susceptible to further reporting, which requires a posture of open-mindedness and enlightened skepticism.”

Reuters acknowledges that this is a difficult feat, especially considering the speed and shortened length of social media applications. “When in doubt about a post, tweet or other action on social networks, we must enlist a second pair of eyes, even at the cost of some delay.” I think this is an important sentiment in our fast-paced world. That Reuters will let first place go to make sure that they are reporting properly is commendable.

The Washington Post has a similar guideline listed under Mind the Medium. “People are following you because they are interested in engaging with you, and are interested in your reporting, expertise and voice.” When readers or social media users want to interact with you as a journalist, you may face criticism. “When you encounter criticism, count to 10. Don’t take it personally, and never make statements on behalf of The Washington Post.” I think this is brilliant advice for our every day lives. It is so easy to snap back with a sharp comment, but it never does any good.

All of these guidelines seem so common sense. It reminds me of that old book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Every time the medium changes, we have to change. The rules, however, are pretty much the same, just as they are with life: share, play fair, don't hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, don't take things that aren't yours, say you're sorry when you hurt somebody, wash your hands before you eat, flush, take a nap every afternoon.

Even though it is so basic, it never hurts to be reminded of it.

Sean Henderson said...

One of the basic principles of The Los Angeles Times’ Social Media Guidelines is that, “even if you use privacy tools... assume that everything you write, exchange or receive on a social media site is public.” I disagree with this policy because I believe it is excessively restrictive in its misguided attempt to prevent conflict of interest issues that employees would supposedly create through their use of private social media.

Social media has become an essential component of most people’s social lives. To require that employees of a company act as representatives for that company at all times - even in private communications - is unfair and unrealistic. Privacy filters were developed to allow users of social media to interact with select groups of people without fear of having to disclose every detail of their online social interactions.

A breach of online privacy is possible of course, but private online property should be treated the same as any other private possessions. Just because the possibility exists that someone could break into a journalist’s home, is not justification for not allowing them to keep private items in their own private residences. The Times needs to rethink the implications of their policy and revise it so that it is more realistic and fair to its employees.

In addition to revising this basic principle, I think it would be in the best interest of Los Angeles Times employees to insist on adding more details as to what specific social media content is covered under the organization’s Social Media Guidelines. As it’s written, the overly broad policy may well allow the Times to gain access to their employees private online accounts. It is simply not fair to wield so much control over employees’ private social interactions.

Morgan G. said...

Upon reading the LA Times Social Media Guidelines I feel that most of these guidelines are pretty much common sense. I say that with the caveat that most people have common sense. It's always interesting when there is that one person who posts something that clearly crosses boundaries and doesn't seem to understand why anyone would have a problem with it.

That being said I think the one of the basic principles I have the most problem with is being aware of perceptions. I do not agree that we should have to be so aware of how we are perceived that we have to friend or join both sides of every issue for as long as we are journalists. I never agreed with this notion, in both the online and offline worlds. I don't believe that there is any way to avoid people's perceptions. If someone doesn't like what you're saying, even if it is the truth they will come up with reason as to why you may be biased. People want to perceive and assume what they want to assume. I realize journalists shouldn't make it any easier but I don't think bending over backwards to avoid any type of bias will help solve anything, especially when there are more than two sides to most issues these days.

Jeremy B said...

Reading over the Associated Press’ social media guidelines, I was struck by a comment about “trash-talking.” The guidelines discourage AP personnel from making derisive comments about a person or organization because “the person or organization you’re deriding may be one that an AP colleague is trying to develop as a source.” This makes sense for an organization as large as AP. Readers tend to think of news organizations as monolithic rather than as a place where many different people hold many different opinions under one roof. It is easy for a news organization to get “marked” and for its journalists to lose access to a source based on the conduct of another journalist.

AP also does not bank solely on the “RTs do not equal endorsements” message that most if not all journalists on Twitter have in their bio section, saying that “many people who see your tweets and retweets will never look at your Twitter bio.” This is a very cautious stance, but one that is quite prudent, especially for an organization like AP that has cultivated an image of impartiality over the course of decades. I am positive that AP would have far stricter standards than a news outlet that is willing to be seen as leaning in one direction or the other, such as The American Prospect.

I also find it interesting that in a recently-added section about live tweeting, AP implores its employees to first “provide full details to the appropriate news desk for use in AP services if the desk isn’t tuned in already” before writing on social media. In this sense, AP wants its employees to keep the big picture in mind, that the organization itself is the primary distributor of news rather than its individual journalists. Because so many journalists have developed their own brand and following, this is probably something that they have to be reminded of constantly.

The AP is also very cautious about its reporters pulling Tweets, Facebook statuses and comments and adding them to stories as quotes, reminding them to ensure that the accounts allegedly belonging to a person are actually managed by them. It also reminds employees that some Twitter accounts, even when verified, might not actually be managed by the person named. For example, Barack Obama signs his Tweets -bo when he writes them; the rest are likely written by communications staffers. While I understand their hesitation, I think that readers would generally expect a Tweet or Facebook status coming from a specific person to be written by that person. So, I don’t really see a problem with AP reporters quoting from social media pages as long as they say that the comment was “found on their page” rather than saying that it was written by a specific person.

Looking at NPR’s social media guidelines, I highly support their stance that journalists should “bring a healthy skepticism to images you encounter, starting from the assumption that all such images or video are not authentic.” Increasingly, people are using photo-altering software like PhotoShop to create false images, which then have the potential to spread around the internet like wildfire. For example, in the panic after Superstorm Sandy, an image of a shark swimming through a New York City street was all over Twitter even though it was patently false. By RT’ing a Tweeted image or posting it yourself, journalists are, in essence, vouching for its validity. In addition to their own personal brand and credibility, that of their news organization can be damaged when mistakes occur.

I was a little confused, however, by their “community norms” section. It begins: “Realize that different communities – online and offline – have their own culture, etiquette, and norms, and be respectful of them.” Because this is a social media guide, I assume they are talking about online, rather than in-person, communities. So, when you are on 4Chan, remember that people act differently than on Mommy blog forums. But it would be useful if NPR was a little more specific about what kinds of communities they are talking about.

K. Nancoo-Russell said...

While reading the social media policies of the various news organizations, one thing that really stood out to me was how dynamic the area is right now. A few years ago, these policies did not exist and yet in a few years they would probably have to be enhanced or updated at least a dozen times. In particular, as new social media networks emerge, these policies would have to be tweaked to accommodate whatever new form of media they offer.

Perhaps what struck me the most was that, of the organizations, the LA Times, reminded their employees about the fact that these social networking companies can be subpoenaed to hand over a member’s communications. I believe the point should be stressed that while social media networks can be used as a main way of disseminating information, it should be used as only a starting point for obtaining information, in the way that, say, we would use Wikipedia as a starting point when trying to find out more about a particular topic.

I think these sites should not replace good old fashioned reporting techniques and should not be considered the same as a phone or in person interview. NPR's policy talks about following up offline afterwards to clarify or confirm information, most of the organizations mention being careful when friending persons who could be identified as sources, and some others talk about legal issues in terms of stating or repeating false or potentially libelous information, but I think not enough is said to caution journalists about using these networks to get information from sources.

I disagreed with the part of the Associated Press’ policy which stated that AP managers could not issue friend requests to subordinates, but it is acceptable for employees to initiate the friend process with their bosses or other managers. I think it is outdated and perhaps written from a Human Resources perspective where some may say that subordinates may feel pressured to accept friend requests from their supervisor or feel uncomfortable, thinking that said manager would “spy” on him/her or use the information gleaned from their sites against them.

I think the policy should state either that you can either friend coworkers or not, and I would lean toward allowing them to. I don't see how distinguishing who initiates the contact should make any difference. If we look at social media networks as an extension of our real world communications practices, then in real life, there is no policy saying that a manager should not give a subordinate their telephone number, and can only have it if the employee requests it. Similarly, office parties are held by many organizations, where people are allowed to fraternize with their subordinates. It may be awkward for some, but it is not ruled out. It is accepted culture. We assume that people know how to use discretion and good judgment.

For the company’s benefit, I would think that if you are suggesting that an employee indicate that they are a staffer of the organization in their social media bios, and use their accounts for work purposes as well as personal, then it would only be fair that an editor be able to see any tweets or status posts the employee may make. It would work in the news organization’s favor, for instance, if an editor can see a reporter’s live tweets and provide an extra eye to ensure they are accurate and in keeping with the organization’s guidelines. Therefore, to have an editor request to friend or follow their reporters should not be prohibited.

Jenny Kay Paulson said...

I think it is contradictory for the AP Guidelines to encourage the use of personal social media, but then discourage "liking" certain people or groups. It's true that people new to a social media source may see that as bias, but I have found that 'liking' people has allowed me to stay up to date on their actions through my news feed. I agree that if you 'like' one politician, for example, you should 'like' their opponent.

One thing news organizations could add to their guidelines is clarification on the use of Pinterest. Lately, I've seen journalists using Pinterest for both personal and professional reasons. What journalists pin on the site can show bias. They should advice journalists to set personal pinning boards as private.

Amber Larkins said...

NPRs guidelines are pretty thorough, but I was bothered by the fact that they say things on personal accounts could reflect on NPR. I think there would be a way to have personal accounts be completely separate and private from anything having to do with NPR and that just because you work for the company it doesn't mean that everything you say is affiliated with them.

I think they should consider that there is more than just Facebook, Myspace and Twitter in the world of social media. Myspace isn't even typically used anymore and should probably be removed entirely. They don't address instagram, pinterest, or a number of other social media tools that have been used. There is no mention of storify, which could be very useful to a journalist and would be posted on Twitter.

I think there should also be something about friending sources on a facebook account. Is it okay to friend your sources? Is this the same as becoming friends with your sources? If they can give you potentially useful information and this is the easiest way to get it, then shouldn't that be included within the media ethics guidelines?