Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
May 14, 2009, 11:08 p.m.

Newspapers and rules on Twitter

This is an update to a recent post about the Wall Street Journal and its policies on Twitter use by its staff. In that post, I essentially agreed with a post by Jeff Jarvis in which he argued that the WSJ policy “missed the point” of social media in general by trying to lock down the behaviour of reporters too much — by restricting them from discussing their stories, being too personal, etc.

Both Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications, in a post at his personal blog and Gina Chen at Save The Media agreed with Jarvis as well, saying the rules were too restrictive and that the newspaper was in danger of missing out on much of the value of social media. Similar thoughts were posted by Pat Thornton at BeatBlogging.org.

Pat also quotes a Twitter post from John Robinson (editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina) that also caught my eye, in which he said:

Twitter rules: I trust the staff to report the news. Shouldn’t I trust them enough to tweet? Is twitter that much harder than reporting?

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times (who recently joined Twitter himself) put it very similarly in a quote he gave to Editor & Publisher magazine:

“I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper. Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing the New York Times.”

As both the Editor & Publisher piece and this piece in the New York Observer make clear, there has been a bit of controversy within the NYT about tweets that staffers (including @jenny8lee and @michaelluo) were making during a strategy briefing at the paper. I wondered at the time whether what they were broadcasting was an internal meeting or not, but assumed it was not. As it turns out, some editors were of the opinion that posting such things to Twitter should always be out of the question, and that even posting positive things from the newsroom shouldn’t be done by Times reporters.

There was also a back-and-forth involving me, Tim O’Brien (Sunday editor of the NYT business section) and Jeff Jarvis about whether rules on Twitter stifle openness or are simply a judicious application of sensible policies on disclosure. At one point, WSJ executive editor Alan Murray jumped in and said that Twittering about stories wasn’t a good idea because it’s “not a good idea for Woodward to tweet he’s going to meet source in garage.”

The Editor & Publisher story has a good roundup of some other policies at various newspapers, including the Washington Post, which says (among other things):

“When it comes to Twittering for The Post, our senior editors should know beforehand if a reporter plans to Twitter or otherwise live-blog something she is covering. Anything controversial should be checked with an editor before transmission. Tone is also important: we don’t use new media to get into verbal fisticuffs with rivals or critics or to advance personal agendas.”

and the L.A. Times, which says:

“Assume that your professional life and your personal life merge online regardless of your care in separating them. Don’t write or post anything that would embarrass the LAT or compromise your ability to do your job. Assume that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public and knowable to everyone with access to a computer.”

Use of Twitter is something my newspaper is thinking hard about too, and I wouldn’t fault anyone — including the Wall Street Journal — for developing a policy or for trying to protect what it sees as its brand value (trust, etc.) and not giving away its secrets. At the same time, however, I think social media is rarely very effective unless it is truly social, and that means trusting people on your staff to use their best judgment when posting things. And if that removes some of the veil of inscrutability or the illusion of omniscience that hovers over the media, then so be it — the reality is that people identify with and want to connect with people, not brands, and that goes for newspapers just the same as other companies.

Obviously, no one wants a Twitter message to blow a front-page scoop or leak a Watergate coverup. But there’s a long way between that and asking permission before every tweet and removing all personality from a reporter’s use of social media.

Note: Fred Wilson has some worthwhile thoughts on this topic as well, although he isn’t a journalist. And be sure to check the comments, which feature a response from Peter Kafka of All Things Digital (which is owned by the Wall Street Journal) and — as usual — some excellent responses from Fred himself.

POSTED     May 14, 2009, 11:08 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
Can publishers find a sustainable business model this new age of Facebook/Apple/Snapchat/Twitter/Google distributed content? And is local news destined to be left behind?
What Scribd’s growing pains mean for the future of digital content subscription models
It turns out that ebook subscription models don’t work very well when people read too much. So what happens next?
How research (and PowerPoints) became the backbone of National Journal’s membership program
“We no longer look at National Journal simply as a news source, but as a collection of resources, as well as a collection of experts we can turn to on occasion.”
What to read next
2843
tweets
A blow for mobile advertising: The next version of Safari will let users block ads on iPhones and iPads
Think making money on mobile advertising is hard now? Think how much more difficult it will be with a significant share of your audience is blocking all your ads — all with a simple download from the App Store.
1763For news organizations, this was the most important set of Apple announcements in years
A new Flipboard-clone with massive potential reach, R.I.P. Newsstand, and news stories embedded deeper inside iOS — it was a big day for news on iPhones and iPads.
762Newsonomics: 10 numbers that define the news business today
From video to social, from mobile to paywalls — these data points help define where we are in the “future of news” today, like it or not.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Al Jazeera
The Economist
The Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News
Lens
Kaiser Health News
WyoFile
INDenverTimes
Outside.in
Mozilla
La Nación
Voice Media Group
Sacramento Press