Monday, May 18, 2009

Twitter rules for journalists at US newspapers

THE Twitter phenomenon has been swiftly spreading amongst journalists, as a tool to both find information and publicise stories. Recently several US newspaper have expressed concern about exactly how their reporters use the social network.
The New York Observer has reported on discussions at the New York Times about staff use of Twitter. During a staff strategy meeting on Monday, reporters Jennifer 8. Lee, Michael Luo and Brian Stelter sent 'tweets' on what executives were saying about the how the paper might charge for online content, amongst other things: information which executives did not necessarily want to be made public.
Times executive editor Bill Keller took a firm stance against revealing the content of staff meetings on Twitter during a speech to employees on Wednesday, reported the Observer. He said that it was important that employees are as open as possible with one another about what is going on at the Times, and "the level of candor is likely to be diminished if people are Twittering fragments of the conversation to the outside world." He called for a "zone of trust, where people can say what's on their minds without fear of having an unscripted remark or a partially baked idea zapped into cyberspace." He also told employees that they must consider whatever they say as representative of the entire institution. Keller did agree that Twitter was a valuable tool for reporting.
The Wall Street Journal is also addressing how employees use social networks, with a memo sent to staff earlier this week outlining "ground rules" on employees' actions online. Its advice on Twitter is that "business and pleasure should not be mixed" and although "common sense should prevail," staff meetings should not be discussed on social networks.
Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told Editor & Publisher that a senior editor must give approval before a Post employee can use Twitter, and added that "I would assume people exercise good judgement." A new Post policy states that "anything controversial should be checked with an editor before transmission." The Los Angeles Times made similar updates to its rules in March.
In a world where it is easier than ever before to spread information using tools just as Twitter, it is consequently harder to keep news under wraps. Clearly, confidential information should be treated as such and not broadcast on the web just because it is easy to do so, but it seems necessary that guidelines on what is public information and what is not must be clearly defined.


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