As a new member of Twitter, I’ve come to appreciate the news value of social media. I follow several news organizations and journalism professors who are constantly updating me with breaking news or interesting links about the industry. This recent study by Pear Analytics reveals; however, that 40.55 percent of Twitter talk is “pointless babble,” versus just three percent that is news.
If the majority of Twitter is just pointless babble, why would newspapers be interested in regulating their employee’s social media activity? In an effort to maintain neutrality, the Washington Post issued a memo recently demanding reporters identify themselves, maintain objectivity, and relinquish their rights as private citizens on social media sites.
“Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility. This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.”
The memo has received much criticism in the blogosphere. Steve Buttry argues the Post’s guidelines demonstrate the editors don’t trust the judgment of their reporters, and the Post is discouraging its staff from using social media, which doesn’t promote transparency. Gina Chen has a round-up of other top newspapers’ policies as well, and promotes Jamie Kelly’s policy: “If you’re using an account for work purposes, identify yourself as an employee of The Gazette. If posting something would embarrass you or the company, or call your professional reputation into question, DON’T POST IT.”
Social media policies seem a little overbearing for news organizations. It seems professionals would use proper judgment in the workplace, especially on the Internet.
This discussion brings up another interesting point; Should journalists strive to maintain objectivity? Reporters all have opinions, and why the media tries to pretend they don’t surprises me. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics never actually uses “objective” or “objectivity.” Steve Buttry also refers to other media outlets, such as television, where print reporters’ opinions are not regulated.
I don’t necessarily believe objectivity is the best form of credibility; I believe transparency is. Being upfront about biases or conflicts provides the most honest reporting for readers.