With social media leading the way in which newsrooms gather and disseminate information, there is no excuse to not have a social media policy in place. Some newsrooms have made their policies public and others speak of a loose policy that requires the use of good common sense. I think the written policy of each newsroom should fall somewhere in between.
COMMON THEMES IN EXISTING POLICIES
After reading through the social media policies of some of the more prominent news organizations, some common themes can be found. First, journalists are always journalists, whether they are on their professional or private social media account. Also, when the validity of information or a picture posted on a social media site is in question, a journalist should consult a senior editor. Tweets should be treated as news tips and not as official sources. Lastly, when journalists use a professional or private social media account, they are expected to make it clear that they are a reporter who works for their said company.
Protect Your Credibility
The Radio Television Digital News Association’s preamble to its code of ethics hits on every core characteristic a journalists should possess; they should operate as trustees of the public, seek the truth, report the news fairly and with integrity and independence, and stand accountable for their actions. It’s not surprising to find in most every news organization’s social media policy a section on managing professional and private social media accounts. Reuters explains in its policy that professional and personal social media activity will be treated as one, no matter how hard their employee tries to keep them separate. It reads, “We all leave an ‘online footprint’…a determined critic can soon build up a picture of your preferences by analyzing your links, those that you follow, your ‘friends,’ blogroll, and endless other indicators.” The policy goes on to read that employees should think about the groups they join, the “badges” expressing solidarity for a cause, and whether it would be best to leave their political affiliation off Facebook.
Washington Post’s social media policy leaves little room for guesswork. It states, “All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens.” The guidelines point out that journalists cannot post on either their professional or personal account anything that could be perceived as political, racial, sexist, or religious bias. “Reality is simple,” it states, “If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.” NPR, New York Times, and many other reputable news sources share these same views. If journalists are doing their jobs well, they are reporting without bias. This particular guideline is a must for every social media policy in the newsroom.
If in Doubt, Consult an Editor
Another guideline which is consistent within the policies found online is, if the validity of the content of social media is in question, journalists should consult a senior editor. The nature of social media makes it difficult to always follow this rule. Reuters suggests that journalists in the field talk to one another on a constant basis to ensure they are all on the same page. At Reuters, If the content is sent in-house, senior editors must approve any images or information from a social networking site. Verifying dates and locations through other reputable sources are among the methods used in determining the validity of a Tweet or other content received through social media. This particular guideline, while extremely important, is clearly not practiced in all newsrooms. During breaking news events, when images and information is flooding social media sites, every newsroom should know the rules and steps that must be taken before that content makes it to air, online, or in publication.
Furthermore, if a Tweet or a picture from Facebook is used to help tell a story, a Reuter’s journalists must be mindful of copyright infringement. Journalists should all be mindful of this. Whenever possible, the policy states, journalists are urged to find and seek permission from the originator of the material. To further protect its credibility, Reuter’s employees must use the following line on top of each photo that cannot be traced: Editor’s Note: This photograph is from a social networking website. Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the material.
Transparency is a Must
Transparency is also consistent among most newsroom social media policies. The Roanoke Times in Virginia is among the public policies to address, in detail, this concept. Journalists are expected to make it clear that they are a Roanoke Times journalist when they are writing professionally, or on their personal blog or other social media sites. Additionally, if they are posting on a personal site, the journalist is expected to write that any views expressed on the particular web-space, are their own. The world of social media opens the door to sources, contacts and stories in a way that is incredibly beneficial to a journalists. We must be mindful and respectful to those who are sought out through social media platforms. For this reason, transparency is crucial in collecting and telling a story in a fair and ethical way.