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Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rules of the Game?

A list released yesterday by the American Society of Newspaper Editors has generated much debate in media circles. This list outlines 'best practices' for social media, and includes a compilation of the social media policies at a variety of media outlets, displaying them and summarizing.

This is what the ASNE article described as the 10 key takeaways:

1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.
2. Assume everything you write online will become public.
3. Use social media to engage with readers, but professionally.
4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.
5. Beware of perceptions.
6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.
7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.
8. Social networks are tools not toys.
9. Be transparent and admit when you’re wrong online.
10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.
In a recent blog entry, Journal Register Company CEO John Paton identified three rules for using social media at JRC newsrooms:


No, don't adjust your browser. The entries are blank. While some may have seen this as an invitation to a social media 'wild west', I read it as an invitation to experiment, to write some new rules, then throw them out the window and experiment some more. Social media is an evolution, much the way as radio or television was in their early days.

So does this mean that journalists can just post anything that pops into their heads at any time?

I believe the answer lies in one word: THINK.

If a story is libelous in print it will be just as libelous online, whether on the web or on Facebook. A rumor is still a rumor, and good judgement must be applied as to the source and effect of unsubstantiated material. The ASNE list provides a few good common-sense guidelines, but is not a substitute for the simple act of thinking before posting. Restricting the use of social media won't ensure quality or success; reaching out and engaging readers in thoughtful conversation will.

As for the ASNE guidelines, I take issue with these three in particular:

3. 'Professional' should not lead to 'cold'. A social conversation needs some personality and maybe even some attitude. Journalists are human beings with likes, dislikes and opinions. Sharing them is not a weakness, it is a strength.

4. News CAN be broken on social media. Example: A large column of smoke is seen. An editor might tweet, 'Checking out that huge column of smoke.' If it turns out to be news-worthy, then a story goes on the web site. If not, then just tweet, 'Never mind, it was just somebody burning leaves.'

10. Many 'internal deliberations' can and should be a part of the public conversation. If we don't ask our readers what they think about what we publish (and how), we are denying the very interactive nature of the Internet. Keeping these conversations positive and productive is an important part of this.



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