Memory can be a funny thing. I banged out my post on the Wall Street Journal’s rules on social media last night simply as a bystander reading about the new Dow Jones policy on social media and commenting.
Then this morning, as I was reading some other blogs on the subject and updating my original post, I realized that I might have been consulted in developing the rules. Whoops! Probably should have disclosed that.
Karen Pensiero, an assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal, participated in my April 7 webinar for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Leading Your Staff into the Twitterverse. We had a follow-up discussion in which she asked me several questions about how journalists should use Twitter. I didn’t take notes and it’s been more than a month, so I won’t pretend that I remember what her exact concerns were or what my answers were. I can’t recall how long the phone call was, and I did not charge any kind of consulting fee, but I should acknowledge that I was consulted.
Below is what I said in my handout for that webinar about ethics and using Twitter (with my current comments about the WSJ policy and how they have applied what I said in italics). That and my slides from the webinar should reflect pretty closely any contribution I might have made to the considerations that led to the new policy.
I also should add that I could not find Pensiero using Twitter’s “find people” function. So, while I can credit her with some research into the topic, I don’t see that she has first-hand experience. I have emailed Pensiero, inviting comment. Update: The Journal responded.
As you and your staff start using Twitter (and other social networks), keep journalism ethics in mind. The principles of journalism ethics – seek the truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; be accountable – don’t change, but social networks present unfamiliar circumstances for making ethical decisions. Some matters to consider and discuss with your staff:
- Identification. Discuss with your staff how they identify themselves on Twitter. My view is that if journalists might ever use a profile professionally, they should identify themselves by name, position and affiliation. As I’ve said, I heartily approve of the WSJ’s strong position on identification.
- Personal vs. professional. Decide whether you should maintain separate personal and professional Twitter accounts. Some editors do and I respect their decisions. I don’t keep separate accounts. My view is that we need to learn how to use social media tools the way the world uses them and lots of people mix the personal and professional when using social media. So I use my Twitter account for personal and professional communications, but I do so knowing that people are always viewing me as the leader of the content operation of Gazette Communications. So I always conduct myself professionally on Twitter, even if it’s a more casual, personal and fun version of professional conduct than I’m used to. Personal communication helps build the connections that make Twitter a strong form of community connection. I don’t think I ever got more responses from tweeps than when I tweeted about my nephew’s leukemia treatment. The Journal decided not to allow mixing personal with business. As I said, I respect that decision but disagree. I should note, though, that if you don’t want people doing that, you do need to be explicit, because WSJ staffers have been mixing personal and business in their tweets.
- Verification. Reporters should be as careful and skeptical about facts they learn and contacts they make through Twitter as they would be about facts or contacts encountered elsewhere. The WSJ rules did not address this.
- Language. The language of Twitter can get pretty casual and foul, with abbreviations such as WTF and BS thrown around casually. Discuss with your staff how they should conduct themselves on Twitter. The WSJ did advise against “impolite dialogue” with people challenging your work.
- Opinions. The Twitterverse can be pretty opinionated. Discuss with staff whether opinions are acceptable in their tweets and whether any particular topics might be off-limits for opinionated tweets. I think the WSJ was a little heavy-handed on limiting staff members’ expression in social media, but I do think that it’s appropriate to admonish reporters about expressing opinions about topics they cover or might cover.