Tweet and Sour? Newspapers Set New Rules for Social Networking

By Strupp, Joe | Editor & Publisher, June 15, 2009 | Go to article overview

Tweet and Sour? Newspapers Set New Rules for Social Networking


Strupp, Joe, Editor & Publisher


It is the spring of Twitter, after the winter of Facebook, and nearly a decade of blogging. So how are newspapers handling a lot of this newfangled social media madness? Many editors are still not sure how to police the growing Twitter trend and Facebook "friending" phenomenon. Since much of it relies on casual and candid conversation, standard newsroom regulations may not apply.

The Los Angeles Times issued a list of guidelines in March, while The Wall Street Journal gained attention in May when it expanded its conduct guidelines to include a host of online-related restrictions, including warnings not to "friend" confidential sources or get into Web- related arguments with critics. The Washington Post, just a day later, did the same (as I observe in my story on p. 5). But not everyone is laying down the law on Twitter. Some papers want staffers to take a casual, open approach, while others admit they aren't sure how to police the social media outlets and still allow them to be useful.

At the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, like at many other newspapers I checked, a common-sense approach is about all they require. "We have not made specific rules for Twitter and Facebook," declares Internet Editor Robert Quigley. His directive: "We trust you to be responsible about it. You always work for the newspaper. That is how people see you."

Staffers at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer are encouraged to tweet as part of their reporting, says Steve Gunn, editor for innovations and new products. But he also said no formal policy exists, other than each Twittering employee must inform him and go through a short review of how to use Twitter.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, started tweeting, albeit sparingly, last month. "I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper," he told me. "Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing the New York Times."

The Washington Post's new policy on social networking sites, created in mid-May, asks users to avoid "verbal fisticuffs with rivals or critics." The paper's policy adds: "In general, we expect that the journalism our reporters produce will be published through The Washington Post, in print or digitally, not on personal blogs, Facebook or MySpace pages, or via Twitter or other new media. We are happy to have reporters post links to their stories or other Post material. …

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