Rules of Engagement for Journalists on Twitter

    by Julie Posetti
    June 19, 2009
    Protest in Tehran by "Hamed Saber":http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamed/ via Flickr.

    i-dbb9bf6c57f7e7455f5f130085f9ae61-guardian apology.jpg
    The Guardian apologizes for an inaccurate re-tweet.

    Twitter’s role in the Iranian election aftermath leaves no doubt about its power as a global, real time, citizen-journalism style news wire service, along with a tool for facilitating dissent, while countering the view of Twitter as simply a zone for egotistical banality. But it also highlighted Twitter’s role as a platform and content generator for traditional media outlets, along with some of the key dilemmas being faced by professional journalists in the Twittersphere.

    I’ve been researching the ways in which journalists and traditional media outlets are using Twitter and exploring the ethical dilemmas raised by the clash of the private and the public for journalists in the sphere via interviews with Australian, US and South African journalists. And, while I’m convinced Twitter is now a vital journalistic tool for both reporting events and breaking down barriers between legacy media and its audiences, there are still multiple questions around professional journalists’ activities on Twitter that require thoughtful, open debate.

    Some employers are either so afraid of the platform or so disdainful about its journalistic potential that they've tried to bar their reporters from even accessing Twitter in the workplace."

    While many journalists recognize Twitter’s power as a reporting tool, some news organizations are still reluctant to embrace it while others have issued rules restraining their writers’ use of the service. In this third installment of my Mediashift series on the intersection of journalism and Twitter, I’ll attempt to determine the rules of engagement for tweeting journalists.


    Rules of Engagement

    Some media outlets are making tweeting almost compulsory for their journalists but others are much more cautious, or even ban journalists from tweeting on the job. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times , Bloomberg and AP (among others) have all introduced policies covering social media, partly in response to problems resulting from the unique mix of personal and professional information in the zone. Some of these policies have been criticized for missing the point of social media — humanized interaction — and too rigidly regulating journalists’ tweeting.

    [EDITOR’S NOTE: The previous paragraph had referred to the newspapers’ social media policies as “conservative.” That descriptor was removed in recognition of the distinctions between their various policies, and in light of a comment from the Times’ Jonathan Landman, below.]

    But in Australia, journo-tweeting is largely unregulated by media outlets. None of the 25 Australian journalists I interviewed for this study (from Fairfax, News Ltd, ABC, ACP, Sky News and a range of smaller outlets) was aware of such a policy in their workplace. According to some of the interviewees, management ignorance could account for the absence of such policies. When asked why he thought his Australian employer didn’t have a policy like the WSJ, one journalist responded, “They just don’t get it.”


    There’s growing realization among employers, however, that guidelines may be a helpful adjunct to corporate editorial policies in the brave new world of social media. There’s evidence of a policy shift at the powerful Fairfax group, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age. Asher Moses (who was at the center of the tweeting controversy featured in part two of this series) indicated that, even though there was no official policy, the company had expectations that he could tweet either for professional or personal use but not both.

    And the ABC is currently consulting staff as a precursor to publishing new guidelines.

    “I think they’re still feeling their way on social networking sites. It’s a new world and they’re trying to figure out exactly how to approach it,” prominent ABC presenter Leigh Sales said.

    Newsrooms Blocking Twitter at Work

    But some employers are either so afraid of the platform or so disdainful about its journalistic potential that they’ve tried to bar their reporters from even accessing Twitter in the workplace. The Sydney Star Observer’s (SSO) Harley Dennett says he’s denied access to both his Facebook and Twitter accounts at work via web filters on office computers.

    “The publishing editor said staff can make those contacts in their own time,” he explained. “But I get around that by using the Tweetie desktop and iPhone applications. I do so openly and unashamedly.”

    Nevertheless, Dennett’s newspaper happily prints copy generated by his extra-curricular tweeting.

    “During news conferences I declare if a story originated from Twitter, but my editor has never verbally acknowledged that,” he said. “I can’t explain the resistance to popular social media and networking websites. Personally, I would welcome some guidance from my employer on Twitter use, if it made sense at least.”

    The SSO’s policy is clearly a short-sighted and narrow-minded approach to managing the issues raised by journalists’ interactions with social networking sites but it’s not an isolated example.

    Jonathan Ancer, from South Africa’s Independent Newspapers group, which publishes Johannesburg’s The Star along with other influential titles, plans to use Twitter to help trainee journalists to write with brevity and clarity, but he is also barred from Twitter at work.

    “When I tried to log onto Twitter a few days ago, I was surprised to find myself blocked with a note saying my attempt to access porn had been recorded,” he said. “I think media companies should open up access to Twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms because this is where people — readers, eyeballs, etc. — are going.”

    However, while individual journalists with the Independent group may have difficulty accessing Twitter, the company’s online publication has a moderately active Twitter account. South Africa’s media certainly need to make active use of Twitter ahead of the 2010 soccer World Cup when they’ll be seeking the world’s eyeballs.

    i-73f539cb36a6b37e4970483d96118d82-parliament house.jpg
    Australia’s national parliament in Canberra where journalists have been granted permission to live-tweet parliamentary sessions.

    Meanwhile, in Australia, the Speaker of the Federal Parliament recently approved live tweeting from the floor of the House of Representatives during Question Time via cell or PC. This breaks a decades-long ban on reporting from inside the House. This will likely both enliven political reporting and make it impossible for resistant journalists and media outlets Down Under to continue holding out.

    As Twitter becomes entrenched in daily reporting practice, it would seem appropriate for media organizations to update existing editorial guidelines to make them relevant to social media platforms like Twitter. But if they want to bank on the significant benefits that can flow from their participation in the Twittersphere (such as developing new audiences and enhancing traffic to their websites), they will need to ensure their journalists have unfettered access to the site and also be flexible about interactions in the space to encourage reporters to engage in conversations with their followers.

    What principles guide J-Twits?

    So, for those journalists who tweet according to their own personal code, what principles guide them? For the ABC’s Leigh Sales, it’s a mix of gut instinct and rules derived from industry experience.

    “If I have even the slightest hesitation about posting something, for example, a slightly off-color witticism, I choose not to post it,” she said. “I don’t post gags about stories on which I may have to report seriously. I don’t put any significant personal content on Twitter. I may occasionally say that I’ve been to a movie or express a like or dislike, but I don’t engage in personal chit-chat…I view it as a professional tool.”

    Dave Earley from Brisbane’s Courier Mail has changed his approach since Twitter began hitting the headlines.

    “Until Twitter’s recent media exposure, my Twitter account had remained relatively unknown in my workplace,” he said. “Now that it’s on the radar, I’m probably more conscious of what I say.”

    Early also chooses not to “tweet angry.”

    “I do try to make sure my tweets are never inflammatory, there’s no point setting out to make enemies,” he said.

    For John Bergin of Sky News, it’s a case of common sense and basic training.

    “Our journalists receive legal training,” he said. “Issues such as defamation, contempt of court, statutory restrictions and so forth should apply as much to the online world as they do in the offline. Obviously, anything that is private and confidential in a newsroom should remain so — again, common sense and respect for the workplace and its people is paramount.”

    But Harley Dennett’s approach is to tweet independently of his employer. This allows him to publicly criticize his paper and its policies if he desires — an act which he believes demonstrates transparency and buys him credibility with his followers.

    “Increasingly, I’m confident the best model is for the journo to have a direct relationship with their Twitter followers independent of the media outlet that employs him or her,” he said. “The spectre of a big media outlet appearing to control what a journo says online would also really hamper that personal quality that Twitter can bring out of a conversation.”

    Lessons from Iran

    i-127eb90a365bba55d0ac0529296617c0-green wave.jpg
    The Green Wave protest in Tehran.

    What information on Twitter is fair game for a journalist to report? There needs to be further discussion between media professionals, their employers, journalism academics and social media experts to help navigate this complex territory. But my preliminary views go like this: Although social media etiquette may not recognize a journalist’s right to report any material published openly, the reality is that open Twitter accounts are a matter of permanent public record and fair game for journalists. While attribution is vital and it might be polite (but not necessary) to seek the approval of a Twitterer to quote them, I don’t see anything unethical about using tweets in mainstream news coverage. However, the locked Twitter account is a more delicate matter. I’d suggest that a locked account amounts to an “off the record” comment which requires permission from the tweeter before re-publishing.

    And does re-tweeting (or RT) — re-publishing someone else’s tweet — equate to giving their tweets your professional stamp of approval if you tweet openly as a practicing journalist? If you are passing on information to your “followers,” do you have an obligation to first establish the information’s authenticity or acknowledge it as “unconfirmed” — an obligation many journalists would feel if they were doing the same for a newspaper or broadcaster?

    When I raised concerns this week about the practice of tweeters who openly identify as professional journalists re-tweeting without verification, in the context of the indiscriminate dissemination of tweets claiming to emanate from Iran, I found myself engaged in a lively discussion on Twitter. I asserted that when Patrick LaForge, an editor at the New York Times, re-tweeted (without acknowledgement of verification or absence thereof) a list of Iranian tweeters sourced from expert blogger Dave Winer (who had, in turn, passed on the list without verifying its contents) it amounted to an approval of that list. LaForge disagreed. NYU’s Jay Rosen then reminded me not to expect open systems like Twitter to behave in the same manner expected of editorial systems.

    Pat LaForge’s Twitter page disclaimer.

    But while I agree with Rosen, my concern wasn’t directed at the unmediated Twittersphere. Rather it was directed at the way journalists approach this flood of information. I’m of the view that professional journalists will be judged more harshly by society if they RT content which later proves to be false — particularly in the context of a crisis. This goes to their professional credibility and their employer’s.

    Therefore, while I wouldn’t for a minute suggest journalists step back from reporting on social media contributions flowing from zones like Iran, nor from repeating tweets purporting to represent witness accounts — clearly these are valid contemporary storytelling devices — I do think they need to critically assess information to the best of their capacity before republishing it and, if there’s no way to do so, flag this with “unconfirmed” or some other abbreviated signal that the information has not been substantiated by the journalist.

    In many international settings, there are legal as well as ethical imperatives to consider here. If you inadvertently RT a defamatory tweet in Australia, for example, arguing “I was just passing on a link,” would not be a defense against a defamation action.

    Writing in The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder advises readers to treat the flood of information from Iran like a CIA analyst would — sifting it and weighing it up. I think that’s sage advice for professional journalists operating on Twitter, too. The ABC provided a good example of an appropriate approach to this problem in their online amalgamation of the social media coverage of Iran by simply acknowledging that some of the content was unable to be substantiated. (These issues will be a theme at the #media140 conference to be held in Sydney later this year.)

    Top 20 Take Away Tips for Tweeting Journos

    1) Think before you tweet — you can’t delete an indiscreet tweet! (Well, you can, but it will survive in Twitter search for three months and it’s likely live on as cached copy somewhere.)
    2) Think carefully about what you’re re-tweeting and acknowledge if it’s unsubstantiated.
    3) Be an active twit: tweet daily if you want your followers to stick.
    4) Determine your Twitter identity.
    5) Be human; be honest; be open; be active.
    6) Don’t lock your account if you want to use Twitter for reporting purposes — this fosters distrust.
    7) Twitter is a community, not just a one-way conversation or broadcast channel — actively engage.
    8) Check if your employer has a social media policy.
    9) Be cautious when tweeting about your employer/workplace/colleagues.
    10) Be a judicious follower — don’t be stingy but avoid following everyone as your list grows to avoid tweet bombardment.
    11) If you quote a tweet, attribute it.
    12) Expect your competitors to steal your leads if you tweet about them.
    13) Don’t tweet while angry or drunk.
    14) Avoid racist, sexist, bigoted and otherwise offensive tweets and never abuse a follower.
    15) Scrutinize crowdsourced stories closely.
    16) Find people to follow. Foster followers by pilfering the lists of other twits.
    17) Twitter is a ‘time vampire’ (via @anne_brand) — you don’t need to keep track of all tweets, so dip in and out through the day.
    18) Prevent information overload by using an application such as Tweetdeck.
    19) Add applications to your Internet-enabled mobile device to allow live-tweeting on the road.
    20) Add value to your tweets with links, Twitpic and other applications for audio and video.

    A useful resource: You can find a list of the top 100 Australian media professionals on Twitter compiled by @earleyedition here.

    UPDATE: Jonathan Landman, deputy managing editor of the New York Times, responds in comments to the contention that the Times had a “conservative” social media policy:

    Actually, The New York Times does not have a conservative code of conduct for social media. It does not have any code of conduct for social media.

    What it does have is a comprehensive set of ethical and practical standards compiled in a handbook, last issued in 2004 and updated and amended from time to time afterward. It is a guide for Times journalists in print, online, over the air and in life. One of the updates is entitled ‘Using Facebook in Reporting.’ It says, among other things, that social networking sites ‘can be remarkably useful reporting tools.’ It also sets forth some reasons for caution — any tool, misused, can be dangerous.

    You can read both the ethics guidelines and the Facebook update here and judge for yourself whether they are ‘conservative’ and/or clueless about social media. Personally, I think that’s a bum rap…

    The Times also has a social media editor, a new position. Her job is to identify the most promising journalistic uses of these tools and then to teach and encourage Times journalists to deploy them. It is quite possible that her work will include publishing her recommendations for all to see and use, maybe even in the form of a code. It will not miss the point of social media.

    Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She’s been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

    Green Wave protest photo by Hamed Saber via Flickr

    Tagged: australia codes of conduct ethics iran election online etiquette twitter
    • It’s not surprising in some ways to read that the majority of media organizations don’t have social networking policies in places. It basically supports an discussion on mumbrella.com that the majority of Australian companies don’t fully understand the scope of social media or SNM.
      As for the rules of engagement, I don’t see any reason why someone who has identified themselves as a journalist should apply any less a standard to what they tweet as to what they write or broadcast.
      My personal view is anything someone tweets is the same as something they say and therefore fair game for attribution.

    • I find the tips extremely useful as I’m a new twitter. It is good that journalists could use it for good purposes; guidelines indeed are needed if this application is to be utilized properly.

      And yes, I discovered this link from twitter.

      Way to go!

    • Megan Meyer

      Great article.

      I’ve just started to tweet journalistically. Although I think I have an obligation to get info out there, I am uneasy about RTing so-called witness accounts. I absolutely feel that anything I tweet has my stamp of approval on it.

      There was so much misinformation the day after the Iranian election, so many accusations of falsity–too many to keep track of. I proceeded with great caution, perhaps to the detriment of a necessary circulation of perfectly valid and vital info.

      While your article allowed me to think about this dilemma in more detail, I look forward further discussion.

      Thank you!

    • Excellent. And the top 20 tips should really be followed by **everyone**–not just journalists.

    • If you were to create another blog post just with the Top 20 Tips it’d spread over the internet like wildfire. Or we could do our best to make it do so.

      It deserves, at the very least, to be at the top of this post!

    • I wholeheartedly agree with Ruth. In fact, I blogged about this post to showcase the Top 20 a bit. It was all I could do not to just cut and paste it, yet I think it’s also nice to see the fuller picture Posetti paints.

    • Julie Posetti

      Thanks everyone for your enthusiastic comments! I know from experience that these are issues many journalists on Twitter (or considering the implications of the platform for professional reporting) are grappling with and keen to debate. So, let’s keep the open dialogue going in the interests of sharing what we learn with the rest of the online community.

      Ruth & Pamela, I’ll raise your request for a separate post here containing the Top 20 tips list with the editors. Meantime, I’ve excised the list and posted it on my own blog here: http://www.j-scribe.com/2009/06/top-20-tips-for-journo-twits.html

    • Harry

      Journalists as professionals should be held to the same standards as other professionals.

      For instance, if a doctor passed on incorrect or inaccurate medical information on twitter, while it might not be illegal, it certainly would pose some ethical issues.

      As purveyors of fact, need to take their jobs seriously.

    • Jimmy Mack

      Wow, that is pretty scary when you think about it!


    • It’s amazing how everything is playing out.

    • I recently had a situation in which a tv company asked for my specialist advice about a programme they are making. I asked for a consultancy fee. They said they had no budget. As they are a major company I find that hard to believe.
      I was then dismayed to find they were using my twitter feed as material for their programme. I know this because they tweeted that. I immediately stopped following them.

    • Excellent, balanced article; great examples that help us appreciate the whole picture. I love the energy and overall tone. The 20 tips speak to me of how we are so rapidly evolving, needing to be far more conscious of diverse values, cultures, interpretations and the role of language in all of this. Technology with awareness of psychology, politics, economics, environment, cultures can and will create a more tolerant, just and equitable world for us all. An enlightened media has such a responsibility in facilitating that. Thank you for your insights.

    • I’ve also done a story on how twitter has changed the sourcing of news.

    • Well would expect journalists to use their realnames insteas of screennames. It’s all about trust.

    • Dawn Dickson Van Ness

      My Take in few words:

      Twitter and blogs are being treated with fear or loathing by the “elite” journalism bodies

      social media is incorporated as a way of PR-community building, but news still has $value, so tweets by journalists are filtered.

      For the public, it is democracizing…the internet is key, if accessible!!!

      Mandela: “the press doesn’t own the news”

      …neither should gov’t.

      For academics (who aren’t trying to publish fiercly) it is collaborative.

      Franklin: “we either stand together or hang seperate.”

      But for journalists…it is either PR play to humanize them, or it is a presence because they have to participate.

      And for anyone who believes journalists are growing irrelevent w citizen journalists…AEJC quoted Wisc. U. prof. “indepth interview skills are critical or journalists are at their sources mercy.”

      I’d add, so is the public!

    • Dawn Dickson Van Ness

      And I meant to add last night, thank you for compiling the list of tips b/c social media is new and we need to talk about it, how it helps and how it harms.

      I like your emphasis on the necessity of saying something is “uncomfirmed,” or that a retweet of a quote is not an endorsement, but only passing a quote on for info/discussion.

      Not sure journalists should tweet as journalists that they are having a happy father’s day with their family to their followers, unless it is their private account. Or that they are waking up early and looking forward to that first sip of coffee.

      But then I’m wondering if different types of journalists, like influencial personalities, have to act one way, and say the morning crew ought to be more human and accessible. Still responsible. But are morning crew journalists? or news personalities? morning “hosts.”

      Public tweeting with professional unlocked profile…private account for family and friend tweets?

      IDK…for me, I feel journalist should have locked accounts with real friends if they are going to be personal…and if they are going to be “JOURNALISTS” in all caps, unlocked, but leave out the morning coffee bits and tweet news related items only.

    • Do professional journalists really need guidelines on how to Twitter a source? Please. If they need guidelines that are so basic and fundamental to the art of journalism then perhaps they should not be considered professionals. It is scary in this current state of so-called “citizen journalism” for anyone with a PC to be called a journalist simply because they are tweeting their opinion about anything. Any responsible professional who works for a reputable media outlet would know to check their sources not once, twice but three times before adopting the material. Perhaps most major news outlets don’t need a “policy” on tweeting because they trust their reporters to know the difference between real news and chatter and if they don’t, shame on them for pretending to be journalists in the first place.

    • A great checklist for anyone publishing in or sourcing from social media. With the explosion of microblogging and social media writers filtering through the content and concepts related to stories becomes increasingly difficult. For a story related Iran elections using a tool like TipTop to find the most relevant messages, writers, and content related to specific topics explore http://www.feeltiptop.com/iran%20protests/.

    • Varun Rana

      I’m an Indian journalist, and have recently started twittering. This article was of great help…especially in a country where the true power and force of online social networking is just now being felt. Thanks. And yes, I came across this link on Twitter.

    • “Don’t tweet while angry or drunk.” Really? What a tragic state media ethics is in when that needs to be said.

    • Julie Posetti

      Apologies all for not responding sooner to these comments – some of which progress the discussion nicely.

      @Harry You make a good point regarding other professions’ codes of conduct and ethical standards. Professional journalists – as trained information scrutineers with an historically pivotal role in democracies – have a social responsibility as well.

      Which is one reason why, @ladylitigator, I take issue with your dismissive response. Did you not operate under corporate editorial policies or professional codes of ethics/conduct as a journalist? And, now as a practising lawyer, do you not adhere to similar professional codes and guidelines?

      It is not sufficient to simply say old principles still apply in such a rapidly changing industry where the Digital Age continues to transform journalistic practice. Of course many of the existing basic rules of of pro-J practice (and the goals they aim for) – ethical investigation, truth-seeking, verification etc – still apply. But we’re in a transitionary period and old rules need to be re-examined to ensure they’re up to date and adaptable to changing industry and technological realities.

      Rather than being insulting to pro-J’s, a public discussion about these issues as they confront journalists in their workplaces and a quick-check list of ‘dos and don’ts’ that apply to platforms like Twitter is generally perceived as necessary and helpful. I say that not only as a journalist/journalism educator but also as one who’s been on the receiving end of an avalanche of thankful feedback from pro-Js and J-students around the world in response to this series. Clearly it is a timely discussion which needs to be had. Reflective practice is neither insulting, nor worthy of condemnation.

    • Julie Posetti

      @reforming journalism Given the passionate personality profile of journalists and the ‘hard-living’ often associated with such stressful, deadline-driven occupations, ‘Don’t tweet while angry or drunk’ is a useful reminder. I apply the ‘don’t blog or email angry’ rule to Twitter – it’s a useful tip for a platform which encourages reactionary, instantaneous publishing.

      @ladylitigator Just took a look at your Twitter page and I suspect some of these issues will seem more relevant and less insulting to you when you have more tweets up your sleeve and are following/being followed by more than a couple of dozen users.

    • Julie Posetti

      @msmarmitelover Good example of the need for attribution and a need for pro-J’s and media companies to be aware of the culture and ethics of social media communities. But it’s also a reminder that when you publish ideas on an open platform, even though they’re shared generously in a spirit of community, they are also fodder for unscrupulous competitors. The question is: do we restrain ourselves or just acknowledge that the Twitter community will ‘turn’ on such people/companies as Laurel Papworth indicated in the comments thread of part two in this series?

      @robinsberkessal Thanks! Yes, I agree with your perspective on journalism’s social role.

      @nandagopalrajan Thanks for the link!

      @Steffenkonrath Yes, very good point regarding transparency online for professional journalists. Although, as long as they identify themselves fully in their bios, I don’t have a problem with the use of a ‘handle’. However, personally speaking, I have greater initial trust in tweeters whose Twitter handles include their real names.

      @dawndicksonvanness Thanks for your thoughtful contribution. I think you allude to an important point in weighing up the clash of the personal/professional (see my take in pt 2 here http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2009/06/how-journalists-balance-work-personal-lives-on-twitter159.html) on Twitter and other SM – there is not one type of journalist. There are news reporters, features journalists, columnists and so on who practice different types of journalism (observational, personalised, literary, news, investigative etc). Therefore, journalists will have different approaches and identities according to their type of practice. While a news journalist may choose to be more cautious about expressing opinions, a columnist who writes about his/her personal life on occasion (think John Grogan of ‘Marley & Me’) will want to reveal personality. And I personally would rather engage with journalists on Twitter who reveal something of themselves – making them multi-dimensional humans rather than bots. Community and interactivity are key to SM but journalists are still grappling with how to approach that element.

      @gregmartin Thanks for the tip!

      @Varunrana Thanks for your Indian perspective! These are issues of global importance in journalism and it’s great to hear voices outside of Western/developed countries. One of the best things about the internet/SM for journalism is that it forces us journalists out of our cultural (sometimes imperialistic) silos which have typically affected our values and perspectives on issues and have been reflected in our journalism. Twitter can enhance our role as journalists who are global citizens.

    • Congratulations on a very thoughtful and useful article Julie – I get a bit of Twitter blog fatigue sometimes (everyone wants to write about it!) and it’s refreshing to find something I think newsrooms can really benefit from reading.
      Personally, my Twitter account is my own, but it clearly states I’m an editor. I had a disclaimer for a while but took it off as I figured people follow me for all sorts of reasons, and my job was just one of them.
      I only retweet those I trust and if I tweet information, I attribute it to a relevant source, with links where possible. However, only verified facts go out on my papers’ Twitter streams – journalists investigating information on Twitter will inevitably make the occasional error, I think, but there has to be a ‘tweet of record’ somewhere in the process.
      The flexible nature of information sharing through mediums like Twitter mean some pitfalls (deleted tweets for example).
      I cringe at auto-follow messages but I get equally horrified when I see tweets from journalists that essentially say “I’m new here and I need a story – now! Someone give me a story!” without any attempt to build networks, relationships or share knowledge.
      Making Twitter work takes time – to find people who add value to the experience, and to earn trust – and those reporters who don’t want ti invest that are the fastest to dismiss it as a gimmick. It’s not – it’s a living community of knowledge and to be a part of it you have to immerse yourself.

    • Very useful summary.

      Not sure about 15 “Scrutinize crowdsourced stories closely.” Are crowdsourced stories any less credible than stories that come from so-called “authoritative” sources? Witness the brouhaha over the media beat-up on PETA after they were incorrectly reported to have criticised Obama for swatting a fly.

      Perhaps it should simply read “scrutinise stories closely” as a reminder that journalists should never take the veracity of any input for granted. But that advice is not Twitter specific.

      btw, the Dave Earley post on the 100 journos on Twitter is broken. Something he did the other day and hasn’t been able to fix yet.

    • Jonathan Landman

      Actually, The New York Times does not have a conservative code of conduct for social media. It does not have any code of conduct for social media.

      What it does have is a comprehensive set of ethical and practical standards compiled in a handbook, last issued in 2004 and updated and amended from time to time afterward. It is a guide for Times journalists in print, online, over the air and in life. One of the updates is entitled “Using Facebook in Reporting.” It says, among other things, that social networking sites “can be remarkably useful reporting tools.” It also sets forth some reasons for caution — any tool, misused, can be dangerous.

      You can read both the ethics guidelines and the Facebook update here (http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=387) and judge for yourself whether they are conservative and/or clueless about social media. Personally, I think that’s a bum rap.

      Nor does the Times regulate journalistic tweeting, though its editors have asked people to respect co-workers’ privacy and to use common sense. Tweeting internal meetings, for example, is generally a poor idea, as is tweeting a news event in competition with a colleague who is actually covering it. Quite a few Times reporters and editors are active social media users (including Patrick LaForge as mentioned above). Sometimes reporters are assigned to provide Twitter feeds as part of a coverage plan for this or that news event, like this: http://twitter.com/zinsernyt. The editors think this is terrific (I should know, being one of them.)

      The Times also has a social media editor, a new position. Her job is to identify the most promising journalistic uses of these tools and then to teach and encourage Times journalists to deploy them. It is quite possible that her work will include publishing her recommendations for all to see and use, maybe even in the form of a code. It will not miss the point of social media.

    • As Derek Barry pointed out, yes, I have somehow broken the post on my site that Julie linked to. And only that post.

    • Julie Posetti

      @JonathanLandman Thanks for your contribution. I take your point about the distinction between guidelines and Codes of Conduct/Ethics. But it’s a narrow one – are the NYT’s ‘guidelines’ enforceable? What are the consequences for reporters if they’re breached?

      I’ve read the Using Facebook in Reporting guidelines (Oct 2008) which are listed here http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=7335 under ‘Codes of Ethics’ and note that they do reference Twitter. Can we not assume Bill Keller’s (NYT Exec. Ed) advice/instructions to reporters on using Twitter from the meeting of May 12th are to be read as ‘flying minutes’ in conjunction with the other published guidelines & policies (e.g 2004 ethics guide) to direct NYT journalists’ activities in the Twittersphere?

      I concede the NYT’s policies/guidelines/codes (call them what you will) are less conservative than Bloomberg’s or the WSJ’s.

      And I agree this is new territory which needs to be negotiated cautiously (as I’ve indicated in this series) but I do think a view that Twitter (and other social media) is potentially “dangerous” does reflect a degree of conservatism. Fear and defensiveness are also evident in the theme of “they’re out to get us” which flows through the Facebook guidelines’ 4th par. I’d rather frame the problem as a responsibility to society to ‘get it right’ and an acknowledgement of the (justifiably) higher standards of ethical practice/publication that the citizenry holds journalists to. I also see rigidity in a policy which restrains news journalists from editorialising on their personal Twitter pages.

      20th century notions of objectivity in news reporting are under review – a process which is being fuelled by Social Media platforms like Twitter. At the core is the clash of the personal and professional; the private and the public in these spaces which encourage (some would say demand) humanised interactions and acknowledge a journalist – even a news journalist – is a multi-faceted human being with opinions and life experiences that influence their reporting. Hence the criticism that’s been directed by some experts at establishment publications’ SM policies that they ‘miss the point’ of SM. At the same time, the reflective examination of the role of the ‘he said/she said’ model of reporting, which helped sustain the so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing’s’ WMD Iraq war-justification campaign, has provided additional impetus to re-cast definitions of objectivity.

      Similarly, I’d question the implications of rules/guidelines which prevent reporters from covering events of significance involving their employer. While caution obviously needs to be exercised, as two reporters I interviewed for this series indicated, a journalist willing to subject their employer to the same scrutiny they apply to other subjects may enhance their credibility with audiences. Public broadcasters like the ABC & BBC, for example, have a tradition of cautiously reporting on public-interest-worthy stories that emanate from their own stables.

      Conversely, I have expressed concern about the habit of some tweeting journalists in linking to unsubstantiated, anonymous information from 3rd parties (without acknowledging it’s unconfirmed) – particularly in the context of the volatility of Iran . But that’s a view that others have challenged as rigid and conservative. Ironic, yes :) Verification and fact-checking remain fundamental paths to accuracy on all publication platforms – including Twitter – in my view. (And accuracy is one ‘old journalism’ goal I think we should be aiming to maintain in this brave new world). In fact, I’d be interested in your perspective on this discussion I had on Twitter with Patrick La Forge (@palafo) regarding the ethics of RTing http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%40julie_posetti+palafo

      Finally, I’m aware you have appointed a Social Media Editor and think it’s an interesting move, reflective of the NYT’s desire to navigate and engage with this new territory. I originally referenced her appointment in this article but needed to cull it for space in an already comprehensive piece. But I look forward to watching what she does and seeing any recommendations she makes to staff about SM practices. Meantime, I continue follow a number of NYT Twitter feeds and individual reporters…and regularly RT them.

      At any rate, all of this is a work in progress and I wish the NYT all the best in addressing the issues discussed in this series.

    • Julie Posetti

      @Alisongow – Thanks! I’ve always found your reflections on the digital transformation insightful and instructive so this feedback is highly valued!

      @Derek – yes, point taken regarding potential over-emphasis on ‘official sources’. But I do think one dimensional platforms like Twitter/Facebook etc make it harder to verify the authenticity of information/sources. Hence the need to more closely scrutinise stories crowdsourced on these platforms. The same is true of SMS/text messages being used as a feature of talkback radio where anonymity is standard and enhanced by the absence of voice recognition.

      @daveearley Never mind. I break things just by looking at them :) Let us know when you’re able to repair the link as it’s a very useful resource!

    • A helping hand from an ireckon.com code legend has fixed things… the Australia’s Top 100 Journalists and News Media People on Twitter list lives again.

    • Dawn Dickson Van Ness

      @Posetti I get the preference for not wanting a bot.

      The benefits: Sense of intimacy and trust building, removing the wall between the public and journalists. There will be an exchange, and maybe the journalist can better serve their community.

      The biases will be more evident and expected.

      Con: Personality trumps professionality, creating cuddly opinion leaders and a false sense of intimacy with audience.

      I guess I’m struggling with the idea of “authenticity” in public personas and the loss of the “unbiased” journalist.

      I guess I’m concerned that biased organizations will front themselves with cuddly model-esque anchors.

      But really there is no resolution.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »

    Follow us on Social Media