For large media organizations still refining their relationships with the Internet, Twitter can be a tricky beast. It’s a great promotional tool, yet it’s impossible to manage the endless stream of bite-sized commentary from a large network of journalists.
Bloomberg News, which has until this week taken a backward approach to Twitter (meaning, don’t do it!), issued a refreshed policy on the social media tool that's the product of recently hired global social media director Robert Harles. His new policy, first reported by eMediaVitals, includes such obvious rules as don’t tweet scoops before they’re written and don’t appear biased. But it also extends into the Big Brother-y, draconian territory the organization is known for. Reporters are forbidden from engaging in conversations “with those critical of our work or critical of Bloomberg News.” Bloomberg journalists are forbidden from retweeting anything they don’t fully endorse and fact-check first. They’re forbidden from expressing opinions related to politics, and perhaps most ridiculously, related to their beat. They’re to avoid linking to non-Bloomberg stories. (The guide then adds that it is “good social media etiquette” to link to others, an empty statement considering Bloomberg.com has never linked to an outside site.) They’re asked to have an editor look at tweets before they’re posted.
While Bloomberg is warily entering social media (and, to put it in terms the Web can understand, “doing it wrong”), other news organizations have loosened their policies in recent months.
The New York Times in the last year began encouraging a “hands-off” policy toward editorial oversight of tweets, and allowing reporters to express personality in their tweets that isn’t otherwise permitted in news stories.
The Washington Post’s policy is encouraging and fluid; its main concern is protecting the publication’s integrity—journalists must identify themselves and not appear biased. Simple enough.
At the Los Angeles Times, management warns against trying to separate one’s personal and professional lives online: “Assume (they) will merge,” the policy states. The appearance of impartiality is encouraged with a strange friending policy: “If you ‘friend’ a source or join a group on one side of a debate, do so with the other side as well.”
Reuters leaves journalists plenty of freedom while strongly encouraging them to “think about” acts like responding to critics or joining groups. The guidelines require journalists to disclose their affiliation and that they aren’t expressing the opinion of their employer. Unlike the LA Times, Reuters asks journalists to keep personal and professional accounts separate. Reuters integrates the Twitter accounts of its journalists and their “live-tweeting” into its website, and requires that all tweets follow the Reuters “Trust Principles.” The newswire also warns that editors will monitor journalists' accounts.
Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal encourage “common sense,” discouraging reporters from friending sources for fear of giving them away, appearing biased, and being impolite. Interestingly, the guidelines place “aggressively promoting your coverage” on an equal, if distasteful, footing with disparaging the work of colleagues or competitors. Dow Jones is also watching the back of its advertisers—the guidelines forbid journalists from offering specific advice to readers regarding consumer products and services.