Staffers at the Wall Street Journal recently received an updated corporate conduct policy, including sections on how to behave when using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The response to the new rules of engagement, however, has been far from positive so far, with Jeff Jarvis saying the Journal was guilty of “missing the point.” Jarvis says the new rules don’t allow reporters to “make their reporting collaborative,” and that one of the benefits of such social networks is that they “provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper … and to become human.”
The need to have a conduct policy is a reality for major newspapers, and it makes sense to deal with new areas such as Twitter and Facebook — the paper I work for is developing a similar policy. But I have to agree with Jeff about the Journal’s restrictions on reporter behaviour. Obviously, a newspaper doesn’t want to give away the store and tell everyone what stories it is working on, or tip its hand in a variety of other ways, and probably doesn’t want to go into detail about how certain stories emerged (especially if it was a fortuitous accident). But Jarvis is right that talking about stories that are under way can also have tremendous benefits.
The biggest point, however, is that Twitter is inherently personal — that’s why people use it, and why they enjoy it and become loyal to those they follow. The idea that you can maintain a strict division between the personal and professional just doesn’t jibe with the way social networks (or human beings) operate. Naturally, a newspaper like the Journal doesn’t want its reporters discussing every detail of their personal lives on Twitter, and no one would argue with that. A little taste of the personal can have a tremendous impact, however, and can build loyalty with readers. Media outlets like the Journal ignore that at their peril. Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications in Iowa has a good take on the new rules as well.