AP warns staff about expressing opinions on social networks

Romenesko Memos
Associated Press journalists have tweeted opinions about the Casey Anthony trial and the New York Senate vote on gay marriage, says Tom Kent, AP Deputy Managing Editor for Standards and Production. “These [two] posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues,” he writes in a memo. “AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues.”


From: Kent, Tom
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 2:57 PM
To:
Subject: Expressing personal opinions on social networks

Colleagues,

In at least two recent cases, we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news.

This has happened on the New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial. These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues.

AP’s News Values and Principles state that anyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. This point is contained in our social network guidelines as well.

Failure to abide by these rules can lead to disciplinary action.

The vast majority of our tweets on these stories — and on other issues in the news — have been completely in line with our guidelines. They pose no problem at all, and are consistent with the importance of AP staffers being active on social networks.

But social networks, however we may configure our accounts or select our friends, should be considered a public forum. AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues.

Please let your supervisor or me know if you have any questions on this. And thanks.

Tom

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  • http://www.khaledscorner.com خالد

    thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ralph-Novy/1522097073 Ralph Novy

     No, reporters SHOULD be “at” a higher standard.

    They ain’t no more.

    Thanks to lickspittle management at most mass-media outlets.

    We’ve been ‘outfoxed.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ralph-Novy/1522097073 Ralph Novy

    “Balanced and unbiased.”

    Hmm.

    Why does that phrase sound familiar?

    We, the reading/thinking public are onto that shibboleth.

    Get honest and professional — or get out.

    How far the AP has fallen.

  • http://profiles.google.com/morgansher Morgan Sheridan

    That rang my cognitive dissonance bell for the day.  I may need more coffee.

  • http://www.leslysimmons.com/ Lesly Simmons

    Whether or not you agree with AP’s ability to remain balanced and unbiased, they had to issue this reminder to their staff. We’re moving into an election season and AP is going to be one of the biggest sources of news coverage, and this gives some reassurance that they are aware of journalistic standards even in the face of social networks, and will adhere to them. Putting a disclaimer on a Twitter bio doesn’t work. Reporters are at a higher standard.

  • http://www.leslysimmons.com/ Lesly Simmons

    Whether or not you agree with AP’s ability to remain balanced and unbiased, they had to issue this reminder to their staff. We’re moving into an election season and AP is going to be one of the biggest sources of news coverage, and this gives some reassurance that they are aware of journalistic standards even in the face of social networks, and will adhere to them. Putting a disclaimer on a Twitter bio doesn’t work. Reporters are at a higher standard.

  • http://bashfoo.org Mike McDermott

    I had to laugh out loud about fair and balanced/unbiased. Why does the AP still hold this to be an achievable standard? Neglecting the essence and passion of a story because it exists as such cheats the reader.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    You honestly think anyone reads that? Heck, they ignore disclaimers on webpages and blogs, where they are right out front.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    Not really. A glittering generality does nothing to address your implications that AP was not balanced and unbiased on the two stories in question.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bradleyfikes Bradley J. Fikes

    You can put a disclaimer in your self-description on the Twitter home page.

  • http://twitter.com/MSampo Chris ‘Sampo Cornell

    Happy to oblige. 
    The AP is one of the worst offenders in the scandalous abandonment of objective journalism that now runs rampant throughout the profession. Its disastrous “accountability journalism” initiative (which was nothing but a decision to allow reporters to inject their personal opinions into what were supposedly straight news stories, obliterating its credibility as an unbiased news source) is just one example of degradation of professional journalism that the AP has led. It is not alone, of course, but it is a flagrant and ongoing offender.
    I can easily understand the confusion that AP reporters must be feeling when they read this memo. “They let us express opinions whenever we like in our news stories,” they must be saying to themselves, “why can’t we do it on Twitter?”
    Hope that was enlightening.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    I haven’t been following most of the case, but my guess would be presumption of guilt, based on past coverage patterns.

    Not sure how the prosecution thought it would win with the flawed evidence it had. And the nutcase mom bloggers will shriek, but with time already served, Casey Anthony will not only have put in some substantial jail time, but she also will never have a normal life again. But as I said before, the nutcase mom bloggers are outpaced by People magazine. That doesn’t help their credibility. But they never had much cred anyway.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    Actually, I don’t think people get the true meaning of “jumped the shark,” either.

    I bet the nutcase mom bloggers were shrieking with anger after that verdict, though. Even People magazine predicted there were flaws in the case before the verdict. So the nutcase mom bloggers are behind even the gossip magazine curve.

    AP has no idea how to police conflicts of interest. None.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    The long-standing tradition has been to clearly state that X is the author’s personal opinion and should not be considered policy or representative of the organization. That still worked on webpages but only sort of worked with Facebook.

    Twitter’s short form makes it unusable – one of the reason’s I personally have stayed away from Twitter.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    Since you find it so amusing, please enlighten the rest of us as to how AP’s coverage of the issues has strayed so egregiously from “balanced and unbiased.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5517429 Elana Zak

    This memo raises a lot of questions for me. Should reporters have personal Twitter accounts if, as the letter above states, the opinionated posts written by staffers “undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been
    working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these
    issues.” So, any post on a contentious issue by an AP staffer makes the entire organization appear biased? But what are the beats of these offending Tweeters? If they cover something completely unrelated to the cases mentioned, then why can’t they tweet an opinion about it? Should there be something like a Twitter account for journalists that is different from their private account? How do you rectify this situation without stifling reporters’ free speech?

  • http://twitter.com/MSampo Chris ‘Sampo Cornell

    Fair enough. The statement certainly sounds silly and doesn’t ring true, that’s for sure. And it makes me laugh as hard as when I read The Onion, so I mistakenly conflated the two.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Something that merely sounds silly or doesn’t ring true– especially when it sounds silly or doesn’t ring true to only some people — doesn’t make it sound like it’s from The Onion. This, for example, sounds nothing like The Onion. 

    “Sounds like something from The Onion” is the new “jumped the shark.” It’s being applied ubiquitously by people who don’t quite get what it means.

  • http://twitter.com/MSampo Chris ‘Sampo Cornell

    “…our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues.” This is from The Onion, right?