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Journalists’ use of social media

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) has put out a very simple list of social media guidelines for its journalists and staff to follow:

  1. Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
  2. Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
  3. Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
  4. Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Posted Nov. 5, 2009

These seem sensible to me. They’re so straightforward, you might think no self-respecting journalist needs guidelines such as these. But they are also valuable for what they do not say.

When The Washington Post disseminated its new guidelines for social media use (posted Sept. 27, 2009), much discussion ensued. Steve Buttry, for example, wrote:

The Post’s top editors need to start using Twitter and other social media more, so they can lead on these issues from a position of understanding, rather than ignorance.

I found myself agreeing with Steve when I read The Post’s guidelines:

When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. … This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. (Sept. 27, 2009)

The ABC’s guidelines indicate that management regards ABC journalists and staff as responsible professionals. The Washington Post guidelines indicate a lack of respect for the intelligence and integrity of the organization’s journalists.

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