Ethics and editorial guidelines (I)


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…


5 Responses to Ethics and editorial guidelines (I)

  1. Over the last few weeks the news headlines have been full of stories where media ethics have been broken, be it Andy Coulson resigning for illegally phone hacking or Sky Sports commentators being exposed for sexist remarks.
    A report is being released with update guidelines on regulation and ethics:

  2. iqbal Yousafzai says:

    Responsible journalism has certain code of conducts, policies and requirements. Every news organization has to follow these policies and code of conduct. Here in terms of these policies the editorial guidelines and editors’ role are fundamentally consequential. Journalists have to follow the approaches and policies of these media organizations whom they are working for.These approaches and policies are basic principles for journalists. Same are true and equally applicable dealing with social media as well. Often the use of making social media reflect the individual angle of a journalist rather than the policy of the organization.
    Iqbal Yousafzai

  3. Adrian Naik says:

    Re – Journalist’s Personal Comments/twitter sites:
    Journalists on social media sites face the same situation as major news corporations when they first started all the time — do we want to maintain credibility, or can we compromise it by letting our employees speak their mind.

    If you don’t want to undermine your name and that of your organisation, don’t post questionable things on Facebook and Twitter: like it or not, they are (FB to some extent) public.

    Some news corporations don’t allow their employees on these sites. And it is a good idea. By all means embrace new technology, but always bear in mind your company’s reputation.

  4. Employees of most media organization have in their twitter’s profile clearly specified that what they write about is their own views, not their employee’s.

    What I do think is that audiences allow journalists to be part of their stories, obviously wihtout being too far in it (check Sasa Petricic audio clip on one of the last entries).

    Regarding your last paragraph… Different media organizations have already set up a kind of new editorial guideline when it comes to social networks and online sources. BBC was actually one the pioneers in the world.

  5. I think it’s a fine line to walk…that between making journalism and journalists accessible and making stories more of a conversation, and undermining the authority and credibility of a news corporation by making it too…pedestrian.

    I can see how in terms of diversity, having personal twitter accounts is a great thing for a journalist. It’s a great resource, meeting place and tool for conversations with people all around the world… but as long as people remember who and what they are representing.

    As Ruben says, most do clearly state that their twitter reflects their personal views….but they can’t deny the fact that they have a well known name that will forever be associated with a certain news outlet…and they should probably always bare that in mind,

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