As punishment, I guess, for posting that I was too busy to continue this discussion (or perhaps because I wished a flight delay on Jeff Jarvis), I got a response from the Wall Street Journal right after I posted my last update in a series of posts that started last night.
I had emailed editors Alix Freedman and Karen Pensiero, asking them to respond to the earlier posts. You won’t understand his response unless you have read the post about my conversation last month with Pensiero. The response came from Robert H. Christie, vice president, communications, at Dow Jones & Co. (and yes, it does say something about the WSJ culture that a blogger’s question to an editor is answered by a PR person):
While Ms. Pensiero found it interesting to hear what others in the industry had to say about Twitter during your April 2009 webinar, the Journal had at that time already written and distributed its own online ethics guidelines, building upon the journalistic ethics we’ve practiced for years. Those online guidelines were sent to staffers in October 2008. (In a response to a question from me, Christie said the guidelines “were released in October and updated a few days ago.”)
The phone call from Ms. Pensiero was by no means a consultation. Ms. Pensiero called you after the webinar because she disagreed with your contention that it was a good idea to let a reporter break news on Twitter rather than on his employer’s website, and she wanted to discuss it further. (The example you had used in your webinar was a Wichita reporter tweeting news from a courtroom with no link back to his employer’s web site.)
I appreciate the clarification from the WSJ. I do recall that Pensiero was concerned about Ron Sylvester‘s Twitter trial coverage for the Wichita Eagle. I think that the discussion became broader than that and I remember her saying the Journal was concerned about staff use of social media, but if the WSJ guidelines came out in October, I had no input.
Christie did not say whether Freedman or Pensiero use Twitter (as noted before, I couldn’t find either of them on Twitter). Christie also sent me a copy of Freedman’s email to the staff, which follows (with my strong approval that the Journal is discussing these issues with the staff, even if I am critical of the conclusions):
The use of social and business networking sites by Journal reporters and editors is becoming more commonplace, and we’re eager to have our journalists participate in our own network, the new Journal Community (wsj.com/community). It’s a powerful way to interact with readers, get story ideas and participate in discussions about our interests.
You’ll soon hear more from our WSJ.com colleagues regarding opportunities to participate in Journal Community. Some recommended activities include creating discussion groups for readers in your coverage area (wsj.com/community/groups), linking to an article you wrote and presenting the questions that it raises. You may also want to respond to a reader’s comment on your article or answer readers’ questions by citing information from your reporting or linking to an online source. If the subject is unrelated to your beat and more leisure or hobby-oriented, you can express your opinions more directly.
As we embark on this new service to readers, I’d like to remind you of some familiar ground rules, as well note some new ones that should guide all News Department employees’ actions online, whether in Journal Community or in social-networking, e-email, personal blogs, or other sites outside Dow Jones.
All postings in Journal Community that may be controversial or that deal with sensitive subjects need to be cleared with your editor before posting.
- Never misrepresent yourself using a false name when you’re acting on behalf of the Journal. When soliciting information from readers and interview subjects you must identify yourself as a Journal reporter and be tonally neutral in your questions.
- Base all comments posted in your role as a Journal employee in the facts, drawing from and citing your reporting when appropriate. Sharing your personal opinions, as well as expressing partisan political views, whether in Journal Community or on the larger Web, could open us to criticism that we have biases and could make a reporter ineligible to cover topics in the future for the Journal.
- Don’t recruit friends or family to promote or defend your work.
- Consult your editor before “connecting” to or “friending” reporting contacts who may need to be treated as a confidential sources. Openly “friending” sources is akin to publicly publishing your Rolodex.
- Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.
- Don’t disparage the work of colleagues or competitors or aggressively promote your coverage.
- Avoid giving highly-tailored, specific advice to any individual. Phrases such as “Travel agents are saying the best deals are X and Y…” are acceptable while counseling a reader “You should choose X…” is not. Giving generalized advice is the best way to avoid legal claims by readers.
- Don’t engage in any rude dialogue with those who may challenge your work — no matter how rude or provocative they may seem.
Much of this is new territory, so please speak with your editor, the on-line team or me as questions arise.
Alix M. Freedman