RTDNA Releases Social Media and Blogging Guidelines

The Radio Television Digital News Association released its Social Media and Blogging Guidelines Thursday, with an eye toward giving its more than 3,000 members — news directors, producers, reporters, anchors, general managers, professors, students, industry suppliers, operations managers, and digital content managers — a resource to tap before sending that tweet, updating that status, or friending people covered in their beats.

Highlights include:

Social media comments and postings should meet the same standards of fairness, accuracy, and attribution that you apply to your on-air or digital platforms.

Information gleaned online should be confirmed just as you must confirm scanner traffic or phone tips before reporting them. If you cannot independently confirm critical information, reveal your sources; tell the public how you know what you know and what you cannot confirm. Don’t stop there. Keep seeking confirmation. This guideline is the same for covering breaking news on station Websites as on the air. You should not leave the public “hanging.” Lead the public to completeness and understanding.

Remember that social media postings live on as online archives. Correct and clarify mistakes, whether they are factual mistakes or mistakes of omission.

You should not write anonymously or use an avatar or user name that cloaks your real identity on newsroom or personal Websites. You are responsible for everything you say. Commenting or blogging anonymously compromises this core principle.

Be especially careful when you are writing, tweeting, or blogging about a topic that you or your newsroom covers. Editorializing about a topic or person can reveal your personal feelings. Biased comments could be used in a court of law to demonstrate a predisposition, or even malicious intent, in a libel action against the news organization, even for an unrelated story.

Just as you keep distance between your station’s advertising and journalism divisions, you should not use social media to promote business or personal interests without disclosing that relationship to the public. Sponsored links should be clearly labeled, not cloaked as journalistic content.

Remember that what’s posted online is open to the public (even if you consider it to be private). Personal and professional lives merge online. Newsroom employees should recognize that even though their comments may seem to be in their “private space,” their words become direct extensions of their news organizations. Search engines and social mapping sites can locate their posts and link the writers’ names to their employers.

There are journalistic reasons to connect with people online, even if you cover them, but consider whom you “friend” on sites like Facebook or “follow” on Twitter. You may believe that online “friends” are different from other friends in your life, but the public may not always see it that way. For example, be prepared to publicly explain why you show up as a “friend” on a politician’s Website. Inspect your “friends” list regularly to look for conflicts with those who become newsmakers.

Be especially careful when registering for social network sites. Pay attention to how the public may interpret Facebook information that describes your relationship status, age, sexual preference, and political or religious views. These descriptors can hold loaded meanings and affect viewer perception.

Avoid posting photos or any other content on any Website, blog, social network, or video/photo sharing Website that might embarrass you or undermine your journalistic credibility. Keep this in mind, even if you are posting on what you believe to be a “private” or password-protected site. Consider this when allowing others to take pictures of you at social gatherings. When you work for a journalism organization, you represent that organization on and off the clock. The same standards apply for journalists who work on-air or off-air.

Bloggers and journalists who use social media often engage readers in a lively give-and-take of ideas. Never insult or disparage readers. Try to create a respectful, informed dialogue while avoiding personal attacks.

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