Social Media in the Newsroom: Where to Draw the Line?

Over the past decade, social media outlets have exploded across the Internet, ranging from MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. These social networks not only expand the social interactions among individuals in society, but completely change the dynamic of breaking and covering news stories for journalists. Journalists can now break stories, cover live events and post their stories via their own personal social media outlets, such as their Twitter handles, or Facebook pages. This development has allowed journalists to have a more personal approach with their audiences, however the issue that arises is with social media in the newsroom. Most news companies understand the use of social media in covering and delivering the news is inevitable, and instead of alienating this new form of presentation, they must adapt and utilize it to their advantage.

Various news outlets have incorporated social media in their news coverage and have outlined a social media policy for all of their journalists. The New York Times’ social media policy for example emphasizes how each New York Times’ employee still represents the organization in social media, and must continue to follow the Times’ rules. Craig Whitney, The New York Times’ assistant manager and who wrote the companies social media policy writes any post or tweet made by an employee “is publicly available information, like anything posted on any site that is not encrypted.” The New York Times has realised how important it is for the newsroom and social media to be incorporated, so they named Jennifer Preston their social media editor, according to an article on Mashable by Ben Parr. Ben Parr states how most of the New York Times’ viewers go through social media and not through their usual distribution methods, therefore they are trying every possible way to improve and manage the social media linked with the Times, such as their employees or the New York Times official social media pages.

Leah Betancourt writes that social media has exploded within our society and “social networking sites are some of the newest tools for reporters to use in news gathering, networking and promoting their work.” She explains the inevitability that social media was going to become part of reporting the news as it is too useful as a tool to reach out to an audience. Representation of their organization, the use of good judgement, verify and confirm stories and sources, and following their organization’s rules are all essential tips Betancourt lays out for a journalist so they can avoid any problems reporting with social media.

Steve Butry explains on his personal blog, that “journalists love to blame twitter” for the issues that come with reporting through the social media. Butry says it is not social media newsroom should look to control, but their own writers and stop them from posting “stupidity” as he describes. Butry’s points are very valid as only the individual as the power to decide what to and not to write on their personal social media pages.

Reuters has a very detailed social media policy, outlining all the guidelines a Reuters’ journalist should follow. The biggest difference it has compared to other social media policies is that it tells its writers to have both a professional and personal accounts for social media, and Reuters even has a list of guidelines for reporting on twitter. They promote the usage of twitter to share stories and cover live events, but breaking news should be “broken via the wire.” Going through the wire or their own social media outlets is an issue some newsrooms are trying to control. The Canadian Press social media policy has the same rule as Reuters, and say it is because they have paid viewers to get the Canadian’s Press breaking news and stories, and breaking stories on twitter would defeat that purpose. The New York Times uses twitter to promote and share stories, but their writers must wait to break stories via social media, until it goes through he newsroom wire. Other organizations, such as ESPN, allow their journalists to break stories via twitter, so long as they have “ESPN” in their twitter handle, such as @Real_ESPNLeBrun . This allows journalists to break stories on their social media accounts before the organizations wire does.

News organizations should not be concerned with their writers breaking stories through their social media pages and not wait until the newsroom wire breaks it. If a journalist respects the integrity of the organization, follows its guidelines, and make it clear which organization they represent and write for, there should be no problem. Organizations should focus on expanding their use of social media, and setting up guidelines for their employees to follow, but they should not limit them from posting breaking stories. Rich Brooks writes on how audiences now get most of their news via the web and how every other news platform in 2010 “saw a decline.” Rich Brooks believes it is time for news organizations and journalists to use every social media platform possible to break the news to the people.

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