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Oct. 13, 2017, 1 p.m.

The New York Times released new staff social media guidelines, so phew, thankfully that’s settled

“In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.”

Last night, in an event at George Washington University, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet talked about his frustration with the social media profiles of some of the Times’ reporters and editors:

“I’ve spent full days policing our social media,” executive editor Dean Baquet said, adding that he’s called reporters personally. Baquet said his view is that Times journalists “should not be able to say anything on social media that they cannot say” in the pages of the Times or across its various platforms…Baquet said he wants it to be clear to the public that the paper’s motivation is “journalistically sound” and not part of “a vendetta” against the president. “I can’t do that if I have 100 people working for the New York Times sending inappropriate tweets,” he said. Baquet said the Times is “going to come up with a tougher policy.”

Well, that didn’t take long: This morning the Times issued an updated set of guidelines, developed by editors Clifford Levy, Phil Corbett, and Cynthia Collins. Some highlights:

In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation…

Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively…

These guidelines apply to everyone in every department of the newsroom, including those not involved in coverage of government and politics…

We consider all social media activity by our journalists to come under this policy. While you may think that your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media accounts are private zones, separate from your role at The Times, in fact everything we post or “like” online is to some degree public. And everything we do in public is likely to be associated with The Times…

Avoid joining private and “secret” groups on Facebook and other platforms that may have a partisan orientation…

If a reader questions or criticizes your work or social media post, and you would like to respond, be thoughtful. Do not imply that the person hasn’t carefully read your work…

We also support the right of our journalists to mute or block people on social media who are threatening or abusive. (But please avoid muting or blocking people for mere criticism of you or your reporting.)…

If you are linking to other sources, aim to reflect a diverse collection of viewpoints. Sharing a range of news, opinions or satire from others is usually appropriate. But consistently linking to only one side of a debate can leave the impression that you, too, are taking sides…

Exercise caution when sharing scoops or provocative stories from other organizations that The Times has not yet confirmed. In some cases, a tweet of another outlet’s story by a Times reporter has been interpreted as The Times confirming the story, when it in fact has not.

And a tip from Times Twitter superstar Maggie Haberman (who is on a Twitter break at the moment):

Before you post, ask yourself: Is this something that needs to be said, is it something that needs to be said by you, and is it something that needs to be said by you right now? If you answer no to any of the three, it’s best not to rush ahead.

Finally: “Department heads will be responsible for ensuring that these guidelines are followed by all staff members in their departments. Violations will be noted on performance reviews.” Your tweets really are on your permanent record.

Reaction around Media Twitter was, as you might imagine, mixed, with most (though by no means all) of the biggest complaints seeming to come from left-leaning folks who see it as giving reporters too little leeway to say true things about the Trump administration and allied movements. Here’s a mix:

The policy is silent on the issue of “Word up!” as a greeting.

Cliff Levy wrote a tweetstorm about the new policies (which he didn’t thread properly, which of course earned him the mother of all blowbacks, because 2017):

This is far from the first time the Times (or myriad other news organizations) have had to think about these issues. The Times’ 2005 code of ethics on “Web Pages and Web Logs” featured similar sentiments:

Bloggers may write lively commentary on their preferences in food, music, sports or other avocations, but as journalists they must avoid taking stands on divisive public issues. A staff member’s Web page that was outspoken on the abortion issue would violate our policy in exactly the same way as participation in a march or rally on the subject. A blog that takes a political stand is as far out of bounds as a letter to the editor supporting or opposing a candidate.

And as of 2012, the Times was happy to talk about why it had no formal, written social media policy; here’s Phil Corbett then:

We do talk about it a lot. I talk to new people who come on board, and to reporters and editors who are getting more deeply into social media. We have social media editors and producers who are available to work with our journalists to help them and to give them advice and guidance…

But in general our message is that people should be thoughtful. They need to realize that social media is basically a public activity, it’s not a private activity, and that people will know that they work for the Times, that they are Times journalists, and will identify them with the Times. And so they should just keep that in mind and be careful not to do anything on social media that would undercut their credibility…

So far this approach seems to be working for us. People have been smart about it, and thoughtful.

As for me, I just want everyone to go read about Hallin’s spheres.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Oct. 13, 2017, 1 p.m.
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