The Ten Commandments for journalists (or are they?)

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

For those of you who are interested in what’s happening at the intersection of social media and the news, there’s an interesting new guide for journalists from the American Society of News Editors that makes interesting reading.

ASNE has surveyed 18 news organisations and the result is a paper entitled 10 Best Practices for Social Media: Helpful guidelines for news organisations.  The study was commissioned by ASNE’s ethics and values committee and the author is James Hohmann, a decorated journalist from the American Politico website.

Given the input from media organisations such as Bloomberg, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and The Washington Post and others, we can assume that its recommendations will have credibility and heft within the industry.

In its executive summary, the report says social media platforms continue to emerge as essential news gathering tools.

“Putting in place overly draconian rules discourages creativity and innovation but allowing an uncontrolled free-for-all opens the floodgates to problems and leaves news organisations responsible for irresponsible employees.”

The one issue that has caused some reaction via Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab is whether news organisations should break news on their website first and not on social media platforms.

“In a news climate that values speed, there are great temptations and added incentives to break news on Twitter or Facebook instead of waiting for it to move through the editorial pipeline. This underscores one of the main values of social media for news organisations, which is to drive traffic and increase the reach of high-quality journalism”.

Cory Bergman on Lost Remote says while editors are important, reporters should be empowered to report in whatever way possible, should the need arise.

“I can see ASNE’s point, but the recommendation is more destructive than helpful for a couple reasons. First, as a news organization in a new distributed world, everything shouldn’t be about driving traffic to yourself — it should be about providing the best possible news service on any platform. And second, the idea that reporters must always work through their editors — even though social media allows reporters (and the public) to self-publish — is increasingly out-dated.”

Another US journalist Joy Mayer, a fellowship scholar at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, says if reporters had to wait until there were links, too many people would already know what the story was.

“I was horrified when I saw this line, but the post goes on to say that there are indeed times when getting news out there, is more valuable than waiting to have a link to share. In general, though, I think journalists, and this set of recommendations, undervalue being a relevant, quick part of on-going conversations.”

Joy Mayer’s advice is to go for it.

“My recommendation would be for reporters to quickly tip their newsrooms first and tweet second – without waiting for the story to appear on the site. First is first, regardless of where it’s posted. Then follow up with a tweet with a link when the story is posted.”

But overall, the reaction to the ASNE guidelines is that they are essentially an endorsement of the need to be professional and ethical, something every journalist should be conscious of in both their professional and personal use of social media.  The One Ring that rules them all is Number Two – “assume everything you write online will become public” (and this includes Facebook because privacy settings could be changed in future).

For what it is worth, here are the ten key ASNE points:

1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.

2. Assume everything you write online will become public.

3. Use social media to engage with readers but professionally.

4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.

5. Beware of perceptions.

6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.

7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.

8. Social networks are tools, not toys.

9. Be transparent and admit when you are wrong online.

10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.

If you have a view on any of these guidelines, make a comment below. There are many ways to skin a cat and to report a story. Do these guidelines cover them all and are they the definitive Ten Commandments of using social media for journalists? Let us know.


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