News Organizations Implement New Social Media Ethics Policies

The social mediasphere has been buzzing about the The Wall Street Journal's new, somewhat rigid, social media policy for staffers. Some of the guidelines include:

"Consult your editor before 'connecting' to or 'friending' any reporting contacts who may need to be treated as confidential sources. Openly "friending" sources is akin to publicly publishing your Rolodex.

"Let our coverage speak for itself, and don't detail how an article was reported, written or edited.

"Don't discuss articles that haven't been published, meetings you've attended or plan to attend with staff or sources, or interviews that you've conducted."

Jeff Jarvis, a blogging and online media pioneer and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York, disagreed with the Journal's new policy, saying:

"This misses the chance to make their reporting collaborative. Of course, they should discuss how an article was made. Of course, they should talk about stories as they in progress. Net natives -- as WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch calls them -- understand this.

"Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. also provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper -- a voice that is less and less trusted -- and to become human. Of course, they should mix business and pleasure. "

Many companies are grappling with how to deal with the new communication tools offered on the Web for legal, ethical and professional reasons, as illustrated in this handy dandy Copperplate-strewn flow chart offering a visual guide on how to respond to bloggers.

Two weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal's Cari Tuna reported on corporations that are having to grapple with social media for legal reasons beyond ethical issues. Tuna cited a case in which eBay's corporate blogger, Richard Brewer-Hay, ruffled some feathers:

"The growing Twitter audience also attracted the attention of eBay's lawyers, who last month required Mr. Brewer-Hay to include regulatory disclaimers with certain posts. Some followers think the tougher oversight is squelching Mr. Brewer-Hay's spontaneous, informal style."

Besides legal issues, journalists face many ethical quagmires with social media and their personal-professional profiles. Following the election of President Barack Obama, Poynter's Steve Myers wrote an interesting article about this challenge, entitled "Journalists' Facebook Pages Reveal Struggle with Neutrality, Free Speech."

Poynter has created a great guide for journalism organizations looking to set up social media ethics policies.

Sharlyn Lauby from also has outlined a process for companies considering implementing a social media policy. She cited five key questions that companies should consider:
  1. Why have such a policy?
  2. What can social media do for my organization?
  3. Who should the policy cover?
  4. Where should you let employees know about this policy?
  5. When is the right time to implement a policy?
Here are some more examples of social media policies from different companies (inside and outside of the media):
  • Will Sullivan

    Will Sullivan is the Interactive Director of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


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