Over the past few years, news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and BBC have issued protocols for staff on networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. They have done so for personal blogs and web sites as well.
So we are talking about new editorial policies for social media. The reason why they did so would probably be controversies sparked over reporters’ tweets. Today, journalists stress the fact that their tweets do not represent their employers’ point of view, but theirs and only theirs.
They are pioneering social media ethics for mainstream media. Once we have pointed this out, let’s get a closer look at editorial policies (from now on guidelines) when dealing with social media.
These guidelines, a new approach to ethical principles within the trade, are going further than giving individual journalists the freedom to take part in any networking media. Since we all agree that social media are part of journalism and they are remarkably useful reporting tools, we should be using them to contribute to responsible, democratic journalism.
Stephen J.A. Ward (professor of Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) stresses the importance of bearing in mind two aspects when it comes to frame editorial guidelines:
a) Flexible rules that encourage new media
b) Rules that are consistent with a plurality of ethical principles
Editors should take the leading role and discuss with their reporters their use of social networks and what issues they should bear in mind. But at the same time, as journalists we have to get involved in the discussion and contribute to the process of establishing new editorial guidelines.
All these aspects become important, especially in a 24/7 rolling society in which media organizations compete for news stories. Imagine a scenario where a news story was breaking on twitter (something that happens quite often nowadays). If the information was not rechecked and carefully treated and gathered, it could lead to widespread miscommunication of the news. We could talk about mass communication of incorrect information.
Here is where editorial guidelines and editors’ roles are important. And I think responsible journalism depends on media organizations approach to ethical issues when dealing with social media.
More to come on facts, opinion, privacy and accuracy…