AP says safety concern was behind memo about journalists tweeting colleagues’ arrest

MediaWire Memo

AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll has sent a memo to all employees clarifying why staffers were cautioned Tuesday not to tweet about two journalists caught up in the Occupy Wall Street eviction from Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park.

AP's social media guidelines tell employees they shouldn't "break news that we haven’t published, no matter the format." However, that was not the only reason a memo was sent after some staffers tweeted information about AP journalists being arrested.

The memo read, in part, "We have had staff tweet – BEFORE THE MATERIAL WAS ON THE WIRE – that staff were arrested."

"The memo was issued at a sensitive time yesterday when we were still trying to locate our two detained staffers and sort out what happened to them," said AP Director of Media Relations Paul Colford by email. "There was concern for two colleagues, who had been doing their jobs in lower Manhattan, and AP had yet to report on their status."

The memo was sent by Lou Ferrara, reports The Washington Post's Erik Wemple. Ferrara, an AP managing editor and vice president, seconds Colford's sentiment.

“As a news organization, our first priority is the safety and well being of our people, and we shouldn’t be putting anything out till we have a clear understanding” of exactly what is going on. That’s standard AP policy for situations in which reporters are taken into custody, Ferrara emphasized, both in the United States and abroad.

Late Wednesday, AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll sent the staff a memo underlining the security issue:


I want to talk with you about some of AP’s policies and why we have them. Yesterday, a handful of AP staffers, including some managers, tweeted that two AP journalists had been picked up by the New York police department while covering some Occupy Wall Street activity in Manhattan.

Those tweets violated a couple of AP policies. A note reminding staff of those policies has generated a bit of chatter in media-gazing circles, chatter that mostly misses the point.

The issue around yesterday’s tweets was not how quickly we got word out that two of our people had been rounded up. The issue was that TWO OF OUR PEOPLE HAD BEEN ROUNDED UP.

When we lose contact with a journalist, our major focus is making sure they are safe, no matter where they are. Sometimes, talking about it while things are still uncertain can endanger them.

In this case, the two were released after a few hours. We aren’t always that lucky.

Those of you who live in the United States may not think about this much since your work rarely puts you in the kind of jeopardy that many of your colleagues elsewhere endure with great regularity. AP’s international staffers know from bitter, often personal experience that that kind of information may make things worse.

Even in the United States, it’s not outlandish to think that a tweet that’s taken by someone in authority to be opinionated or sarcastic could lead to one of our staffers being held longer than necessary. Imagine you’re that staffer. Would you want to be kept behind bars by a colleague’s thoughtless tweet?

Social networks are a wonderful thing and we use them to help newsgathering and to promote your work, all to great effect. But sometimes other values are more important.

I know how proud you are of AP’s hard-earned reputation for accuracy and credibility. And that you wouldn’t dream of violating the policies that uphold those cherished values.

We have them for good reasons -- to protect our people and the fruits of their work. You and your work.


Separate from the journalists' safety, Anthony De Rosa, who works for AP competitor Reuters, offers a different view of how a news agency can benefit from social media:

"The wire is still a huge part of our business and always will be. However, acting in a way that handcuffs us from doing our best work – at Reuters.com and on social networks which help drive traffic and extend our brand – is writing a death sentence for us as a future media company."

Previously: Ingram: 'Twitter is the newswire now' (GigaOm) | Do reporters undermine their employers’ scoops by tweeting them first? | Fiedler: Police didn’t violate journalists’ First Amendment rights in Zuccotti Park eviction


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