Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Tag: reporters

WaPo, of all places, needs a lesson in transparency

Last Friday, the Washington Post internally released a social media policy for its staff that has had the news world buzzing. While it isn’t big news to release such a policy (many other papers have them too), for a paper with a reputation like that of the WaPo, you’d expect something a little less down on social networking. The policy applies to personal and professional accounts and has more than enough eyebrow-raising ‘dont’s’ that are sure to scare any staffer away from the social web. It already has.

To be fair, a great deal of the policy does focus on ethical issues most news staffs should have cleared up, such as remembering you’re always a journalist online and must follow the ethics of the profession even in social media and that anything online is public, even if you think it isn’t. The problem is, it also features a lot of warnings that seem to go against the very reason most journalists sign up in the first place.

Take the following gem:

Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.

The very first thing I ever encourage reporters to do when they join Facebook or Twitter is to follow or friend the groups and individual sources they cover. They should be seeing what their sources are putting out there and use that medium to further interact as reporters. That’s the whole point – conversation, right? The policy does say they can do this with special permission and all that, but if WaPo reporters are anything like the nice people I work with every day, they’re going to drop all of their sourcing associations online immediately.

Another scary point of the policy is that it specifically says staff should tweet or otherwise communicate about internal newsroom issues or its company’s business decisions and they are forbidden from addressing any criticism of the organization. As Paid Content points out, that sort of policy would have prevented the mini-scandal over the WaPo’s paid schmooze events proposed by its publisher earlier this year – and it essentially makes transparency of the organization a punishable offense.

It’s transparency that is really what has been outlawed here – and that should concern journalists and consumers alike. In the age of social media, transparency is the new objectivity in a lot of ways (maybe eventually in entirety) – so why shut down the main avenue reporters have to show their work?

As the Posts’s tech writer Rob Pegoraro notes, reporters don’t just use Twitter to look cool, they use it as a public notebook to benefit readers and the organization at large. Without social media, he can’t easily answer a reader’s question in a public manner, provide links to related content or give readers a sense of who he is as a reporter in order to earn their trust.

I hope the WaPo eases up on this policy in the wake of the internal and external backlash. It’s really for the good of the entire industry following their lead that they sit down and consider how much they stand to lose from closing their doors to the outside world.

A catch-up on recommended reading

These are my recommended links for the past couple of weeks (sorry, I’ve been busy!):

Recommended reading for April 24th

These are my recommended links for April 24th:

Intro to Twitter for Journalists

(Updated June 2010)

How-Tos on Twitter

Tweet: A single Twitter message, the maximum length of which is 140 characters (so make them count).

Replying to/mentioning another Twitter user: When you include  @someonesname, it will send a public message to that user and show up in your outgoing tweets. This is also how you would address a Twitter user. Example: I spoke to @myboss today, he said I was fired. (To respond to others’ tweets on Twitter.com, hover your mouse over their message to see the reply option.)

Direct (private) messages: Use d theirname before your message to make it private. This will not show up on your public tweets. (To direct message from Twitter, hover their user icon and click on the gear to see the option or go to Direct Messages on the right side of the page.)

Re-tweeting (RT): If you see something on someone else’s Twitter feed you’d like to directly share with your followers, you can essentially “forward” their tweet to your readers by re-tweeting. (To re-tweet on Twitter’s site, hover your mouse over their message to see the re-tweet option.)

Hashtags: Sometimes on Twitter, you’ll see people use # before a word. This is called a hashtag and it is used to group tweets from lots of people relating to a certain topic or event. Use a hashtag if you happen to see one that is about a group or event you’re covering.

Starting a hashtag: If you spot a news event or hot topic on the horizon, try creating a hashtag of your own when tweeting about it. Make sure it has a # in front and is pretty short.

Tweeting links: Because you only have 140 characters to work with, you’ll want to shorten any links you put into your messages. Some applications do this for you (see below); otherwise you should shorten your link at tinyurl.com or bit.ly.

Posting photos: If you’re tweeting from a mobile application (see below), it should have a way to directly tweet images from your phone’s camera. There are desktop applications that make this a lot easier or you can upload and tweet a photo at Twitpic.

Posting your geographic location: Twitter has built-in geolocation tools you can enable if you’d like. This will include a location on a map with your tweet.

Posting from your computer: There are several applications available to tweet from your computer that are much easier to use than Twitter’s site. Check out Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Seesmic or HootSuite.

Posting from your cell phone: You can set up your Twitter account to accept tweets by text message by going to twitter.com/devices. You do this by going to Settings > Devices on your Twitter home page. Follow the directions there.

Posting from your Blackberry or iPhone: Smart phones have some nifty apps that help you tweet on the go – most include ways to easily tweet photos and GPS locators with your posts.  Check out your app store for an app that’s right for you.

Grouping Twitter contacts: Once you’re following more than a few people, it can get confusing and tiring to read the whole stream at once. Twitter has a grouping system called Lists that create narrower streams of info from select Twitterers.  You can create lists from the Twitter site or most desktop apps. Create specific lists for beat contacts, personal friends, stuff you read just for fun, etc.

Important Stuff to Remember (Ethics & Such)

  • Make sure you verify a fact before running with it (or even re-tweeting it). Think of Twitter as a tip generator, not a reporter.
  • Twitter followers will correct you when necessary – and they will quickly forgive mistakes so long as you admit to them quickly.
  • If you don’t know something, just say so.
  • Follow the Golden Rule with content. Don’t use anyone’s stuff without getting permission and giving credit.
  • The Internet is public and permanent. Everything you say – even what you think is private – can be found and documented. Act accordingly.
  • Furthermore, if you wouldn’t say it on air or in a story, don’t say it at all.
  • You don’t have to get a special Twitter account just for work. Many journalists (myself included) use one account to span both worlds. Not everyone is comfortable with that, so it’s your call.
  • Even if you have a separate Twitter account for work, keep your profession in mind. To the law (and to readers and sources) you are always a journalist in everything you do.

Finding Who to Follow

The best way to get people to follow you on Twitter is to follow the right people from the start. You don’t want to add too many people at once, as it makes it hard to follow (and might make you look like a spammer). Add a few people at a time, focusing first on adding beat sources, then moving to potential competitors, info feeds and influencers in the community.

It also doesn’t hurt to follow those who’ve replied to or re-tweeted you in the past.

Find local twitterers by location or subject: Twellow is a service that searches local people (or people anywhere, really) by their specialties and popularity on Twitter. Also try Wefollow, which let’s you find members by topic/interest area.

Follow other journalists: A great way to get started on follows is finding other journalists on Twitter. Look for people who share your beat, or even those who seem to have a Twitter presence you like, at Muckrack.com

Look at Lists: A great way to easily follow others and get started with lists is to subscribe to others’ public Twitter lists. If there’s someone you like on Twitter, see who they follow and their collected lists along the right side of their Twitter home page. See one you like? Subscribe to it or pick an individual account from their subscriptions to follow yourself.

Suggested follows:

Go to the address and click on “follow” to add them to start subscribing.

News organizations to follow on Twitter:

@cnnbrk @breakingnews @ColonelTribune @statesman

More good examples:

@johnfayman: A former pupil of mine, John is the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Reds’ beat writer. He’s a good example because he uses his account in many ways: live-tweeting games, leaving commentary, answering fan questions and re-tweeting links.

@thehyperfix: Chris Cilizza is the original live-tweeter, using this account for live coverage of press conferences. You can also follow his regular account @thefix.

More Info:

Twitter Signup and Account Setup

Data Mining Twitter (6/2010)

Making Twitter Work For Reporting (6/2010)

Need-to-Know Twitter Tips for Journalists (6/2010)

My own collection of suggested links about Twitter and social media for journalists is on Delicious.

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