New RTDNA Social Media Guidelines Help Journalists Avoid Ethical Traps

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with some leaders of the Radio and Television Digital News Association to draft what we hope will be useful guidelines for using social media and blogs ethically in our journalism. RTDNA released the guidelines this week.

RTDNA Chairman Stacey Woelfel pushed for these guidelines because, he said, journalists need help balancing the opportunities and land mines that social media and blogs present. The Communicator, the RTDNA publication, said:

" 'These guidelines will be instantly valuable in just about every newsroom across the country,' said RTDNA Chairman Stacey Woelfel. 'I can guarantee that anyone reading the new guidelines has already dealt with at least one of these issues. Now there is a way to weigh your editorial decisions regarding social media and blogging.' "

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We had a few goals. We wanted to speak to how speed and space limitations can compromise accuracy and fairness. We wanted to speak to the frictions that occur when journalists "friend" people on Facebook. We wanted to say something about how journalists are always journalists, even when they are off the clock. We also thought it was important to speak to how journalists sometimes say or post things online that they would not say or show on the air.

Additionally, we wanted to say loudly that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other such sites have a legitimate place in the distribution and collection of news and information, but that like any tools, they should be used carefully.

We included a range of voices in drafting these guidelines, including those of Woelfel; RTDNA Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Benz; attorney Richard Goehler; Carol Knopes, director of education projects for the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation; Kathleen Graham, RTDNF executive director; and Ryan Murphy, RTDNA digital media editor.

You can see a list of various news organizations' social media guidelines here. You may also be interested in this collection of guidelines from other groups, such as governments, professional associations and more.

Here are other coverage guidelines that I have helped RTDNA draft. The guidelines cover a wide range of topics, including coverage of juveniles, charities, funerals and more.

I would love to hear what you think of the RTDNA guidelines. Just drop me a note in the comments section of this piece.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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