Journalists Share Disclaimers about What They Endorse on Twitter, Facebook

Reporters who follow their sources’ activities on Facebook are finding ways to explain that the relationships are just business.

Leslie Perales, local editor of Patch.com’s site in Herndon, Va., has this high on her Facebook page: “Full disclosure: I’m a journalist. If I ‘like’ something on Facebook it may not be because I actually like it, but instead it is something I’m trying to keep track of for the news cycle.”

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Perales wrote in an e-mail, “When I was covering an election in April/May, I was trying to keep track of all the candidates on Facebook. They were writing posts there, had updates about their campaigns and campaign events there. I tried to find and ‘like’ all of them.

“A local PR person I know reamed me out in a Facebook message saying a journalist shouldn’t ‘like’ anything in terms of politics on FB, even if it’s MY personal FB profile and not the newspaper’s page (granted, nothing is personal anymore). I chose at the time to ‘unlike’ everything so no one else would get upset.”

Perales and other journalists I’ve talked to say they feel their independence appears to be compromised when, in Facebook speak, they must “friend,” “fan” or “like” someone or something just to follow it.

With more sources breaking news on Facebook, the problem intensifies.

Chad Graham, social media editor at the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com since December, has issued guidelines helping reporters there through the Facebook thicket.

In a phone interview, he said, “We have general social media guidelines … that we have released to the staff. “The concerns about Facebook came up lately. Reporters wanted people’s Facebook news to show up in their news feeds.

“These ‘friend,’ ‘like’ and ‘fan’ terms are kind of used by many different people, but there was a concern that you were somehow a fan or a friend of these people we were covering on a professional level.” Graham said that the newsroom wanted to be as clear as possible with readers that following news sources this way was part of the reporters’ jobs, and not a declaration of favoritism.

“More and more politicians news leaders are releasing news on Facebook,” he said. For our reporters to be able to do their job, they have to do some Facebook monitoring of the people they cover.”

Graham cited Lisa Halverstadt as one reporter who “has gotten a sense of where people stand on an issue, and Facebook enriches her understanding. It is a necessary tool for her.”

Halverstadt’s Facebook page says, “As a reporter, I may become a fan of a group or befriend a person or organization to gather news and information. This is not meant to be construed as an endorsement.”

Graham said, “a majority of our reporters use Twitter professionally. “There is a limited number that use Facebook professionally.

“We’ve created what we call a Twitter network, which is a group of reporters who Tweet professionally and we can come together to cover breaking news. We’ve started putting people through official Twitter training in groups of 25. We’ve asked them to put something that says retweets and links do not constitute endorsements in their beat area.”

Graham said that the newsroom tries to guide reporters without dictating what they say on their social media sites. “We want them to be able to show their personality and to be engaging, if they can do it in a way that let’s them show their personality,” he said. “People should be as authenticate as possible on social media.”

Political reporter Dan Nowicki’s Twitter page says, “Dan Nowicki is The Arizona Republic’s national political reporter. He blogs at azdc.azcentral.com. Retweets don’t imply support of the message or the messenger.”

Style reporter Jamiee Rose has a variation on the theme on her Twitter page: “Following and retweeting do not imply endorsement, and yes, my office asked me to say so.)”

Graham said journalists should maintain the ethics they live by in every part of their lives. “This can be akin to not placing a campaign sign on your yard,” he said. “You can give the impression that you are not neutral. With any social media issue, you have to be flexible because this is changing so quickly.”

Coming Thursday: Find out why studies about vanishing jobs only show half the story.

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