15 May 2009

Savvy Socialising

Journalists' rapidly increasing use of Twitter and Facebook is making editors at some newspapers a little nervous, Editor & Publisher reports.

The Wall Street Journal this week expanded its conduct guidelines to include a number of online-related restrictions, including warnings not to "friend" confidential sources or get into Web-based arguments with critics. Other newspapers also have issued new ground rules. For instance, the Los Angeles Times has a lengthy list of "social media" guidelines emphasizing that staffers are linked to the paper when they engage in online activities. "Assume that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public and knowable to everyone with access to a computer," states one guideline.

The L.A. Times actually is among the most active U.S. newspapers on Twitter, with nearly 150 accounts, half of them by individual reporters and other news staffers. "We understand people need to be more casual to fit in to that culture," says Andrew Nystrom, the Times' senior producer for social media. "We encourage them to say what is on their minds, and that gets a better response."

Other editors also say they want staffers to have a casual, open approach. And still others admit they aren't sure how to police social media outlets without curtailing their usefulness.

"I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper," said Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, who started tweeting (sparingly) himself just last week. "Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing The New York Times."

Keller's paper has not established specific rules for Twitter and Facebook, but staff workshops have been held to teach reporters the best use of Twitter. Perhaps the reporter who posted information from an internal staff meeting to her own Twitter account earlier this week -- Tweets that turned into stories for, among others, the Guardian -- missed that meeting.

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