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The New York Times has suspended Andrew Goldman for four weeks, according to the New York Observer, after the freelancer writer tweeted offensive comments in response to criticism of a piece he wrote. Phil Corbett, associate managing editor for standards at The New York Times, also reminded staff today that they should treat Twitter and Facebook as “public activities,” and that their behavior on social networking sites should be “appropriate for a Times journalist.”
In a memo, which Public Editor Margaret Sullivan published on her blog, Corbett wrote:
Those two basic principles should be enough to guide us in most situations. Be thoughtful. Take care that nothing you say online will undercut your credibility as a journalist. Newsroom staff members should avoid editorializing or promoting political views. And we should be civil – even to critics – and avoid personal attacks and offensive remarks.
The memo comes a week after Goldman was called out for criticizing author Jennifer Weiner on Twitter. Corbett told Sullivan that, in light of this event, “it seemed like a good time for a reminder.” He went on to say that the Times’ ethics policy applies to both staffers and freelancers:
Readers do not make the distinction between a freelancer and a staff member, so we want them to have the same standards.
Sullivan pointed out that the Times’ social media guidelines haven’t always been clear to staffers, let alone freelancers. That may be because they’re informal; the Times doesn’t have a written social media policy. Corbett explained the reasoning behind this to my colleague Jeff Sonderman a few months ago:
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.
This is true, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have guidelines. The best social media guidelines don’t list rules; they encourage experimentation and offer examples of what works. Having a formal, written policy doesn’t prevent situations like Goldman’s outburst, but it does give staffers — and freelancers — a clearer understanding of what’s expected.
Related: 3 important questions in the debate over Margaret Sullivan’s criticism of Andrew Goldman | NPR’s new guidelines for social media: Respect their cultures | AP adds new social media guidelines on friending/following sources