The New York Times has an article by Mathew Ingram of Gigaom who feels US news editors seem to be saying “don’t allow your journalists to be human, under any circumstances” when it comes to social media. The article is based on a social media policy overview from the American Society of News Editors which finds that “breaking news on Twitter is not advisable”, according to news editors.
There’s the typical media-industry bogeyman that lies behind most of these policies: the staffer who types things into Twitter without thinking, maybe even (gasp!) breaking news on the social network before his organisation has a chance to craft a story. And what happens then? Chaos! The very foundations of the media industry crumbling, dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria. None of that actually happens, of course, but most traditional media policies seem to harbor the fear that it might.
Ingram goes on to say:
To take just one example, the report mentions the case of Octavia Nasr, a senior editor at CNN with decades of experience in the Middle East, who posted something on Twitter expressing regret that a Hezbollah leader had died. Although he was known as a terrorist, Nasr said he was also a force for tolerance toward women in the region, and that’s why she said what she did. Defensible? Totally, as I wrote at the time. But CNN fired her. The ASNE report uses this as an example of why people should be careful what they say, but I think it’s an example of why organizations like CNN are dinosaurs.
Do people express themselves on social networks? Of course they do. Should they avoid being stupid or offensive? Yes. But to expect them to have no opinions — and then to fire or sanction them when they do — is naive in the extreme.
The report also states that breaking news on Twitter is not advisable — those kinds of reports should be saved for the newspaper, it says, because the purpose of social media is to “drive traffic” to the reporter or editor’s website. So presumably that means New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter shouldn’t have re-tweeted the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and shouldn’t have pointed out how credible the report was because it came from the former Secretary of Defense’s chief of staff.
Are the social media policies of UK newsrooms more progressive than the US? Or is the message from editors that journalists should now be human and breaking news should not be the preserve of the newspaper?