Why The New York Times eschews formal social media guidelines

Phil Corbett, The New York Times associate managing editor for standards, tells me in a phone interview why the paper chooses to have only informal social media guidelines:

We have not done a very formal, detailed written policy. We’ve talked about it, but up until now we’ve made a conscious decision not to do that. Partly because we’ve really been encouraging our journalists over the past couple of years to embrace social media, to use it as a tool, to get comfortable with it.

We think it’s really important for them to do that, and we’ve been concerned that if on the one hand you tell all your reporters and editors “Social media is great, you really should be experimenting and getting the benefit of this great tool,” but on the other hand, “Here’s 27 rules that you better not violate or you’re going to be in big trouble” — that’s not necessarily the most effective way to encourage your journalists. …

We do talk about it a lot. I talk to new people who come on board, and to reporters and editors who are getting more deeply into social media. We have social media editors and producers who are available to work with our journalists to help them and to give them advice and guidance. …

But in general our message is that people should be thoughtful. They need to realize that social media is basically a public activity, it’s not a private activity, and that people will know that they work for the Times, that they are Times journalists, and will identify them with the Times. And so they should just keep that in mind and be careful not to do anything on social media that would undercut their credibility. …

So far this approach seems to be working for us. People have been smart about it, and thoughtful.

Earlier: John Paton’s three “rules” for journalists using social media (Digital First) | NPR’s new guidelines for using social networks: “Respect their cultures” (Poynter).

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Hi, Kevin. Thanks for the question and the comment. The interview was done by phone. I clarified that in the story. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    Jeff, good interview. Nice. Two things to ask Mr. Corbett next time: when will the Times start lowercasing the word “internet” as the Brits do, correctly, I might add, and…what is the Times take on the use of the term “scare quotes” as a term — “scare quotes” — is Phil aware of who coined it or when or why? Ask and ye shall receive….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Hall/100003322010756 Kevin Hall

    Is the gray box the “interview,” and he said all that to you verbally, Jeff, or is it an email reply? If it’s written by the NYT AME for standards, geez Louise, he needs to hire some editors to clean up his grammar errors. 

    As for the content, the NYT seems fairly level-headed about it, but others need to come to terms with the reality that employees aren’t slaves, at their command and accountability for every thought they may share within their social circles outside of the work hours their meager salaries encompass.

    A remark to your personal Facebook page or to your chosen Twitter circle is no more public than venting to friends at a bar — depending on your privacy settings, perhaps even less public. Journos aren’t robots to program. They have independent thoughts, ideas, opinions and gripes the bosses might not like. If they weren’t people who dared to think for themselves, they wouldn’t be much good to watchdog journalism, if news execs really still were to want them to be more than stenographers.

    Again, shameful industry practices that media ought to report — and probably would, if they weren’t looking into a mirror.