AP issues staff guidelines on retweets, no ‘personal opinions’ allowed or implied

Associated Press
The Associated Press has added a new entry on retweeting to its social media guidelines. Staffers are reminded to keep their opinions to themselves.

Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day.

Disclaimers — like “retweets do not constitute endorsements” — do not protect AP staffers if they violate these guidelines.

Previously, the guidelines — which were last updated in July — said simply that staffers “are welcome to retweet and share material posted by official AP-branded accounts on social networking sites (e.g. @AP, @APStylebook, etc.” Below read the full update from Tom Kent, AP’s deputy managing editor for standards and production, and responses to the announcement.

RETWEETING

Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying. For instance:

RT @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools

RT @dailyeuropean at last, a euro plan that works bit.ly/xxxxx.

These kinds of unadorned retweets must be avoided.

However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Colons and quote marks help make the distinction:

RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools

RT big European paper praises euro plan: @dailyeuropean “at last, a euro plan that works” bit.ly/xxxxx.

These cautions apply even if you say on your Twitter profile that retweets do not constitute endorsements.

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

    Yes. I think who has been hired where — and who hasn’t, and for what reasons — is what’s really at the bottom of all this bizarre, addled invective. Good luck to you, sir. 

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

    Most stories do. But that doesn’t mean there should be even more cause to have opinions that present a bias attached to someone. AP made a huge mistake a few years in opening the door to news pieces that expressed commentary within them. This guideline is simple, straightforward, and a small step toward correcting that colossal mistake.

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

    “Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day.”
    That’s the first sentence of the guideline. Seems to me that would eliminate the retweeting of your own opinion.

    If people plan to keep finding these “loopholes,” I would point out this: I doubt AP is going to allow much gray area on this topic. No RT opinions without quotes or punctuation that shows those are not the writer’s opinion. Seems straightforward and fairly simple to follow.

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

    “Best case, you’re being willfully disingenuous.” No, Dan, the people who claim they can’t follow the guideline because of a small flaw in its structure are being willfully disingenuous. That’s my point — many journalists do this sort of thing far too often when guidelines are created.
    If someone disagrees, be an adult and say so and say why. But don’t act like an elementary school student and pick at loopholes and then claim that means the guideline doesn’t have to be followed.

    “The only person beating the misplaced RT aspect into the ground is you.” Really? There aren’t a dozen other people throwing that out along with their two-cent insults that accompany their victory laps? That’s news to me.

    The book/cover thing is off-topic, but if you really need it explained, then here goes: There are any number of people within journalism who have twisted the agenda from content to appearance. Hence, the “book/cover” analogy. But I should have known that would fail because you can’t use analogies with many journalists. They claim not to understand them for the reasons I’ve mentioned here. (And you’ve mentioned, too, even if you’re unaware. You are doing a fabulous job of making my points for me and showing an example of exactly what happens when these guidelines are set up. Thanks.)

    “And even if people are beating it into the ground, you still haven’t addressed it.” Really? I didn’t say that the point of the guideline is crystal clear, even with that flaw? That’s funny; I seem to remember writing that.

    “everybody should just shut up and do what AP says” — hmm, I don’t recall saying that. In fact, I have criticized AP often. But this time, I think this guideline makes sense and really should not be hard for allegedly professional adults with above-average intelligence to follow. On retweets, use quotes to show it’s not the writer’s opinion. Seems fairly simple to me. In fact, I’d say if people can’t figure that out, then they probably shouldn’t be working for AP or as a writer to begin with.

    “You used more words, but they still conveyed no information.” Really? Hmm — I said it was off-topic and mentioned why. I hope it’s clarified for you here. If not, then you should read more closely and think a little harder.

    I will summarize here, though, even if it is repetitive, so you can understand. Allegedly professional adults who claim to be of above-average intelligence should be able to figure out what this guideline calls for. If they disagree, then they should say so and why. They should not hide behind finding loopholes or other juvenile arguments that are too often part of the journalist’s playbook. If they cannot understand what the guideline calls for, then they probably need to be doing something else. And if a lot of current AP writers cannot understand, then there probably should be a review of who’s been hired for AP and why.

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

    Best case, you’re being willfully disingenuous. Worst case … well that would be an insult. My main point, which you’re conspicuously ignoring, is that it’s a convention on twitter that RTs aren’t endorsements. They don’t look like the writer’s opinion because they’re not, unless the writer says otherwise. AP also hasn’t indicated that readers are confused by its reporters’ RTs of opinions. I said that, too – just a heads-up. 

    The only person beating the misplaced RT aspect into the ground is you. It does, however, fit in with the argument that AP doesn’t seem to now how Twitter works, and yet feels qualified to issue guidelines for using it. And even if people are beating it into the ground, you still haven’t addressed it. Indeed, you haven’t addressed anything other than your notion that everybody should just shut up and do what AP says, or else they aren’t “adults.”I still have no earthly idea what you’re talking about re: the book/cover stuff. You used more words, but they still conveyed no information.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    lol. that is hilarious. If I worked at AP I would take advantage of this loophole

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

    Dan, we’re going in circles, which is the standard goal when journalists choose to resist basic guidelines. When they can’t win on the merits, they try to confuse.

    We’re past a dozen mentions easily about the structure of the RT part. The point has been made. Again, that is not the point of this guideline. The point is for RTs not to look like either the writer’s opinion or an opinion the writer supports.

    I was trying to avoid going off-topic with the “judging a book by its cover” example, but it does relate to my point of journalists far too often being unable to relate to concepts in a fashion that would follow with adults who claim to be of above-average intelligence. Most people learn early on that you don’t just create a flashy cover and then say that completes the job. But people in newsrooms have spent the last couple of decades resisting that concept or trying to unlearn it.

    You can keep pointing out the structure of the RTs, but that’s been beaten into the ground.  

  • http://twitter.com/gordythomas Gordy Thomas

    Since this was an official AP DIRECTIVE, written by someone who should have a proper sense of effective and correct communication style, allow me an edit:—–Retweets AND tweets, should not be written in a STYLE WHICH IMPLIES YOU ARE expressing a personal opinion REGARDING the issues of the day.A retweet UNACCOMPANIED BY YOUR OWN COMMENT can easily be PERCEIVED AS AN approval of THE RETWEET.For instance:RT @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schoolsRT @dailyeuropean at last, a euro plan that works [Bit.ly link removed; reported as "spammy"].Writers MUST REFRAIN from posting SIMILAR unadorned retweets.WE CAN, HOWEVER, judiciously retweet opinionated material if we INDICATE CLEARLY THAT WE ARE [strike SIMPLY] reporting–NOT ENDORSING–IN THE SAME MANNER we would USE TO quote WITHIN A STORY.THE PROPER USE OF colons and quote marks [strike HELP] make A CLEAR distinction:RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schoolsRT big European paper praises euro plan: @dailyeuropean “at last, a euro plan that works” [Bit.ly link removed; reported as "spammy"].THIS GUIDANCE APPLIES even if you INDICATE on your Twitter profile that retweets do not constitute endorsements.[NOTE: in an official notice, contractions should be avoided, and directions should be clear, avoiding the appearance of "suggestions"]

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

    The RT being in the wrong place is central: it shows that AP’s managers have no clue as to what they’re talking about: they actually issued guidelines without having learned the most fundamental facts about the subject of those guidelines. Moving the RTs renders tweets insensible. I haven’t counted up all the previous mentions of this fact, but it’s still true and it’s still central to the issue.

    If retweeting opinions “looks as if” they are the reporters’ own opinions, the problem is with the person doing the looking, not with the reporter. People who actually use twitter know that RTs don’t equal endorsements, and if someone doesn’t, they can easily be schooled. If they insist on remaining confused, that’s their problem entirely. 

    This isn’t a “loophole” – it’s basic to how twitter works. If AP managers don’t know this, they shouldn’t be issuing guidelines until they learn (and people shouldn’t be spouting opinions about it until *they* learn). If they learn and decide they don’t like how twitter works, they can ban twitter use entirely, and then see how that works out for them. But they can’t just arbitrarily rewrite the rules and conventions of the medium they’re using.

    Again, I haven’t seen any evidence that readers are confused by this, or have complained that AP reporters’ RTs seem to be their own opinions. Out of its pathetic fear of the bias cops, the AP is addressing a problem that isn’t actually a problem.

    The New York Times doesn’t put a disclaimer on David Brooks’ columns indicating that Brooks’ opinions are his own, and not the paper’s. That’s a convention, and people understand it. 

    I’m not sure what your “judge a book by its cover” bit is supposed to mean, so I can’t address it.

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

    Dan, there have been at least a dozen posts about whether the “RT” is in the wrong place. I get it. Don’t need to point it out any more.

    Again, the issue here is reporters retweeting opinions and whether it looks as if they are expressing them as their own opinion. The motive behind that is crystal clear to me.

    If people disagree with that sentiment, then they should say so and say why. But picking at the “RT conventions” and other things is far too much like what happens with any other guideline associated with journalists. The never-ending search for loopholes becomes tiresome after a point. It’s a behavior that should have been left behind well earlier in one’s lifetime.

    But then, we are taking about an industry that doesn’t even grasp the concept of judging a book by its cover. This is generally a grade-school concept.

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

    The guidelines don’t even comport with the most basic twitter conventions. And they force tweeters to add verbiage in an already restricted space just in case some confused or vindictive person might decide that retweets equal endorsements. Is this really a big problem for the AP, or any other news organization? If AP’s managers think it is, the actual problem runs deeper than twitter. Maybe the people complaining would act more like “adults” if their managers didn’t treat them like children.

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

    The guidelines don’t even comport with the most basic twitter conventions. And they force tweeters to add verbiage in an already restricted space just in case some confused or vindictive person might decide that retweets equal endorsements. Is this really a big problem for the AP, or any other news organization? If AP’s managers think it is, the actual problem runs deeper than twitter. Maybe the people complaining would act more like “adults” if their managers didn’t treat them like children.

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

    Textbook example here of how too many journalists can’t follow a simple guideline like this one. The point seems simple: Don’t retweet without adding punctuation. Yet, as usual, people stumble over themselves to rail against a policy, even when they don’t really understand it (see, Carr, David).

    This was/is a frequent pattern far too often in too many newsrooms. People who claim to be adults of above-average intelligence in an allegedly professional environment shouldn’t need things like this to be spelled out so frequently.

  • http://twitter.com/sixmile dmk

    hmmm.  a loophole in the guidelines?  you can retweet your own opinion as long as you acknowledge you are the sole source of the opinion being RT’ed. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    These policies seem arcane. Aren’t more and more journalists now blogging and showing a bit of personality with readers? It just seems like these strict rules take out the “social” in social networking and defeats the purpose of what Twitter, Facebook and the rest are all about. Journalists are human and humans share emotions and have opinions. Most of the world thinks the press is bias anyway, but most people can also tell when a story is fair or not. Am I wrong here? The game has changed so much that maybe these guidelines don’t exactly work anymore. This implies that a journalist cannot send any Tweet that reflects any type of personal opinion on any issue of the day. This also implies that a journalist covering the Ohio State legislature cannot tweet or retweet “#Occupy movement is annoying” because it contains a personal opinion, even though that journalist is not writing about the Occupy protests, and never will. Maybe I am an odd fellow, but I don’t mind when a journalist expresses an opinion, and I can tell when a story has a slant or bias—most stories do, whether intentional or not.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    These policies seem arcane. Aren’t more and more journalists now blogging and showing a bit of personality with readers? It just seems like these strict rules take out the “social” in social networking and defeats the purpose of what Twitter, Facebook and the rest are all about. Journalists are human and humans share emotions and have opinions. Most of the world thinks the press is bias anyway, but most people can also tell when a story is fair or not. Am I wrong here? The game has changed so much that maybe these guidelines don’t exactly work anymore. This implies that a journalist cannot send any Tweet that reflects any type of personal opinion on any issue of the day. This also implies that a journalist covering the Ohio State legislature cannot tweet or retweet “#Occupy movement is annoying” because it contains a personal opinion, even though that journalist is not writing about the Occupy protests, and never will. Maybe I am an odd fellow, but I don’t mind when a journalist expresses an opinion, and I can tell when a story has a slant or bias—most stories do, whether intentional or not.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    These policies seem arcane. Aren’t more and more journalists now blogging and showing a bit of personality with readers? It just seems like these strict rules take out the “social” in social networking and defeats the purpose of what Twitter, Facebook and the rest are all about. Journalists are human and humans share emotions and have opinions. Most of the world thinks the press is bias anyway, but most people can also tell when a story is fair or not. Am I wrong here? The game has changed so much that maybe these guidelines don’t exactly work anymore. This implies that a journalist cannot send any Tweet that reflects any type of personal opinion on any issue of the day. This also implies that a journalist covering the Ohio State legislature cannot tweet or retweet “#Occupy movement is annoying” because it contains a personal opinion, even though that journalist is not writing about the Occupy protests, and never will. Maybe I am an odd fellow, but I don’t mind when a journalist expresses an opinion, and I can tell when a story has a slant or bias—most stories do, whether intentional or not.

  • Anonymous

    living in the stone age

  • Anonymous

    living in the stone age

  • Anonymous

    living in the stone age

  • Chris Tiedje

    Why be in denial that journalists have opinions? Not to mention, the RT format that they’re proposing goes against what are widely considered to be standard operating procedures for retweets. The RT should fall before the source and not at the beginning of the tweet. Come on, guys. Get with the program.