I can’t keep blogging every time a major newspaper releases fear-driven social media guidelines. But once again, I can’t resist.
The Los Angeles Times is the latest major news organization to apparently tell its staff to beware the dangers of social media. I don’t have time to critique this in the same detail that I did the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post guidelines.
But I count 19 words of mild general encouragement to use social media and more than 600 words of thou-shalt-nots and warnings of the terrors lurking below the water, including subpoenas.
Without looking, I knew that these policies were written by people who don’t use social media much. But I looked. I couldn’t find Editor Russ Stanton, who released the guidelines on either Twitter (tried searching for Russ, Russell and “Rstanton”) or Facebook (several Russ Stantons there, but none that I could find identifying themselves with the Los Angeles Times in their public profiles).
At first, I couldn’t find Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann, who also signed the guidelines, on Twitter. So I tweeted that neither of them used Twitter. Then Chris Krewson tweeted that Andrew Nystrom might have had some input and he’s a regular Twitter user. I messaged Nystrom and he pointed out that Fuhrmann tweets as hfuhrmann (at the time he listed his name that way in his profile, but he spelled it out after I pointed that out to Nystrom). Fuhrmann’s profile identifies him as overseeing the Times copy desk. He has tweeted only 71 times (three this month, four in October), so I think it’s fair to say he’s not a very active Twitter user. Fuhrmann has 491 Facebook friends, so I’ll guess he’s more active there.
Fuhrmann has more social media experience than some editors who have developed misguided policies. But I feel safe in saying that we again have inexperienced, fearful editors telling staffs to be very afraid of social media.
Nystrom tells me in an email (responding to my mocking of the subpoena fear), “our legal folks do take the potential implications of social media very seriously.” I should note that I misread this fear in one of my mocking tweets, after reading a story about the policy and before I had read the full policy. Still, throwing in subpoenas does add to the “reefer madness” tone of the whole policy. I have been subpoenaed frivolously, long before social media were part of journalism, so I don’t take subpoenas lightly. Journalists should always be careful and social media don’t change that.
The Times policy warns: “Your interactions could be subject to a third-party subpoena. The social media network has access to and control over everything you have disclosed to or on that site. For instance, any information might be turned over to law enforcement without your consent or even your knowledge.” Yes, and so could information you publish on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. With the exception of personal messages, social media content is public anyway. Some good judgment in use of personal messages is advisable. But so is some perspective.
Some of the issues raised are valid and some of the advice is good. But the tone of fear, the failure to give more than passing lip service to the importance of social media and the unwillingness to trust journalists’ judgment reflect the same cluelessness we saw from the Journal and the Post.
As I’ve said before, newsrooms need lots of conversations about the wise use of social media. And those conversations should stress the opportunities and the value of social media. But first we need more editors to learn about the opportunities and the value.