The regulation of social media and transparency

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.

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3 Responses to The regulation of social media and transparency

  1. gcaton says:

    I think this new uprising of social media is very interesting. Twitter is not necessarily a “strictly news” site, or any place where people expect objectivity. In fact, many sites like Facebook and Twitter are meant to be able to share an opinion, thought, or idea with others that are your “friend” or that “follow” you. It doesn’t mean that anyone has to take you seriously. I think that any reporter should be able to post a tweet or blog about anything they want. The problem is that there aren’t any rules yet really with regulating the Internet. I can see why newspaper companies would want to regulate what their reporters are saying and posting, especially if they are specifically representing that company. Instead, I think that newspapers like the Post should make rules such as, “when you are representing the company, use journalistic standards and objectivity….” When a reporter is posting something that isn’t representing the company, they should be in charge of their own online reputation as a person and reporter.

  2. Leah Olson says:

    New media seems to have changed the journalism landscape so quickly it’s almost frightening. For my blog post I also looked at the same Pear Analytics study and found it interesting (but not too surprising) that the majority of Twitter posts are categorized as “Pointless Babble.”
    I completely agree with the memo issued by the Washington Post. Objectivity is an interesting issue in journalism. We all obviously have an opinion about things whether they be national government or local politics. But, as journalists I think it our duty to not let those opinions seep into what we are writing. We should write objectively and let the readers make up their mind about their opinion. There are tons of blogs and newspaper op-ed columns out there that are full of passionate opinions. If media consumers want to read opinions, then they should find a blog to follow. But in most cases, I think it is inappropriate to write subjectively if you are a journalist.
    For this reason, I think it’s inappropriate for journalists, who should be seen as totally objective, to make known their opinions through social media sites. For example, what if you are assigned to write an article about a Republican convention for a newspaper. You write the article and it is published. Readers might be curious about you and look you up online, only to find your Facebook page on which you might be a member of a group bashing Republicans. How can this reader trust your article now that he/she knows your true opinions? I am not saying that journalists shouldn’t have opinions, but I am saying that it appropriate to keep those opinions more private than they would be on Twitter or Facebook.
    It is true that these policies seem a little overbearing, but I think that is the burden we must carry if we want to be professional. We are here to give facts and tell a good story while we are at it.

  3. benmaras says:

    Part of what people seem to grapple with about Twitter seems to be the fact that it lacks the prestige and ethics of a news agency. But Twitter isn’t a news agency — it’s a method of publishing and disseminating information, much like the printing press. Anyone can get a hold of a letter press (ok, maybe not anymore) and run off a bunch of chain letters. But any form of technology is just a tool, and in the hands of the responsible and ethical that tool can be used for good. The only difference between the two is who uses it, and how they treat it.

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