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February 03 2012


#newsrw – Laura Kuenssberg: ‘If you wouldn’t say it on air, don’t tweet it’

Who owns your Twitter followers? Do you? Does the company you work for?

That was a key discussion point at the final session of news:rewired – media in motion. The debate centered on how different news organisations set social media standards. Panelists were: Laura Kuenssberg, business editor with ITV News; Neal Mann, digital news editor for Sky News; Katherine Haddon, head of online with English, AFP; and Tom McArthur, UK editor of Breakingnews.com.

The question was raised when Kuenssberg mentioned leaving her former employer, the BBC. Like her current Twitter handle (@ITVLauraK), her previous one referenced the BBC. The following issue arose: Could Kuenssberg take her followers with her or were they the BBC’s?

“Can someone own your followers?” Kuenssberg asked. “Unlike an email or a tape or a written page, you can’t take your followers. It’s their call. … They’re not property in the same way something else would classically be property.”

The debate also turned to the subject of Twitter guidelines. The panel generally agreed that if you wouldn’t say it on air, don’t tweet it, a point Laura Kuenssberg introduced.

“If you’re not happy about saying it on air or on a talk show … then really you shouldn’t be putting it on social media,” Mann added.

The same also applies to discussing rumours on social media. Kuenssberg, Mann and McArthur all suggested simply telling readers if something was or was not confirmed by your media organisation.

Haddon explained that employees at AFP aren’t allowed to tweet breaking news – as that is the product the agency sells.

“You can say to people, ‘we’re hearing reports of x, we don’t know what it really means but it sounds like it might be really big and we’re doing everything we can to find out for you’. That’s OK. People can cope with it,” Kuenssberg said.


LIVE: The debate – Setting social media standards

In a final debate, delegates are encouraged to discuss with a panel of key industry figures the issue of setting social media standards.

With: Laura Kuenssberg, business editor, ITV News; Neal Mann, digital news editor, Sky News; Katherine Haddon, head of online, English, AFP; and Tom McArthur, UK editor, breakingnews.com.


Mann: “Journalists should be the anchors in the rumour storm.”

Previously ITV, BBC, Sky would never report on rumours, but now we report that there are reports of rioting, for example, but when we knock something down and disprove it, we report that too.


Neal Mann is talking about how usage of social media has expanded since 2008. It became obvious that it needed to be used as a news gathering tool, but problems arose as there were no guidelines.

Kuenssberg and Mann both adhere to the policy: “If you wouldn’t say it on air, don’t post it to Twitter.”


We’re getting into the last session of today. It’s going to be more of a debate and discussion, so tweet questions to @newsrewired.

The panellists are: Laura Kuenssberg, business editor, ITV News, @ITVLauraKNeal Mann, digital news editor, Sky News, @fieldproducerKatherine Haddon, head of online, English, AFP, @khaddonTom McArthur, UK editor, Breakingnews.com, @TomMcArthur.

Moderated by Kevin Anderson, journalist and digital strategist,@kevglobal.

August 01 2011


Q: Who owns a journalist’s Twitter account? A: The users

Screengrab of Laura Kuenssberg's Twitter settings renamed to ITV

image from Tom Callow's Wall blog

When Laura Kuenssberg announced she was leaving the BBC for ITV, much was made of what might happen to her Twitter account. Was @BBCLauraK owned by her employer? (After all, it was branded as such, promoted on TV, and tweets were ‘processed’ by BBC producers). Or should Laura be able to take it with her? (After all, it was Laura that people were following, rather than a generic BBC political news feed).

The implications for the ‘journalist as brand‘ meme were well explored too, while newly empowered journalists may have been concerned to read that companies are inserting social media clauses into contracts:

“To keep hold of the good will created by a brand personality. Recruiters, for example, are often required to hand over their LinkedIn accounts upon leaving, so their contacts remain with the employer.”

Amidst all the speculation, Tom Callow stood out in offering some hard facts:

“When she had earlier tweeted the details of a new separate ITV account to her then 59,000 followers, only around 1,000 of them started following the new account.”

This sounds compelling until you remember that tweets are only seen for a relatively brief period of time by those followers who happen to be watching at that moment, and that a significant proportion of followers of celebrity/high profile accounts are likely to be idle or spam.

Still, it also highlights the fundamental weakness in all the debates about who ‘owns’ a Twitter account. One very important party is not being represented: the users.

Much of the commentary on Laura Kuenssberg’s move treated her 60,000 followers as an “audience”. But of course, they are not: they are users.

Some will be personal acquaintances; some will be fans of the BBC’s political coverage; and yes, some will be spam accounts or accounts set up by curious BBC viewers who forgot their password the next day. Some will follow her to ITV, some will follow her replacement at the BBC, and some never worked out how to click ‘unfollow’. (Kuenssberg’s successor - @BBCNormanS – had 5,824 followers after she tweeted a link, according to Paul Gregory, which means that only around 10% of her followers read either of those tweets and acted on them.)

Whether an employer claims ownership of a social media account or not, they cannot ‘own’ the relationship between users and that account. And there will be as many relationships as users. Some passive; some collaborative; some neglected; some exploitative.

It is those relationships that we should be concerned with developing, not the small print of an employee’s contract.


July 31 2011


Who owns a Twitter account? - How the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers to ITV

The Wall :: Back in March, Tom Callow wrote this piece looking at the ownership issues around Twitter profiles used for professional purposes. He noted that sensible consensus seemed to be that a personal feed, with no inclusion of a company or brand name, is owned entirely by the individual behind it, whilst a corporate feed, with no inclusion of an employee name, is owned entirely by the organisation to which it makes reference.

However, the post raised the issue of Twitter profiles that combine both employee and employer names. At the time, Callow mentioned that the account of the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, was the perfect example of this – @BBCLauraK. What would happen, if she left the BBC for a rival media outlet? Would the BBC keep her Twitter account and reassign to her successor, or would she be permitted to take it with her? Last week we got our answer. ... On Thursday 21 July, Laura Kuenssberg renamed her @BBCLauraK account to @ITVLauraK, taking 60,000 followers with her.

Continue to read Tom Callow, wallblog.co.uk

June 11 2010


#VOJ10 – Twitter is just another outlet, says BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg

One careless tweet could sink the fleet.

Advice from BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg, who warned of the power of a single tweet to bring down politicians and political correspondents alike. Kuenssberg, who did her fair share of tweeting during the general election last month, is specific about what she tweets:

I still use it broadly for the same things [pre and post-election] and I’m quite strict about why I would tweet. I use it for simple breaking news and information (…) it’s the fastest way of getting it out there even with 24-hour television.

I also use it for the kind of colour you see as a journalist – not gossip, not rumour. These are often the things that get retweeted the most; things that as a journalist you see with your own eyes but might not get to broadcast.

As a lobby journalist you’ve got a ticket to a very small world. You are witness to a very closed world. Its part of my job to reach out to people and give them moments of colour that they otherwise wouldn’t see.

Having trialled using twitter during the party political conferences in 2009, Kuenssberg’s following on the social network grew from around 5,000 pre-election to 23,000 post-election. But it hasn’t changed how she works, she says – just added to it:

Twitter has just become another outlet. It’s highly compatible with my job because I’m normally out and about. It has given journalists more material – not a massive amount, because so far we haven’t had massive breaking stories from citizen journalists.

Social media as a “paper trail” – tracking down the backgrounds of PPCs and following what they’ve said pre-election on Twitter – was particularly useful however, said Kuennsberg.

Although it’s still a small group of people using Twitter, it has shown me that there’s a big interest in what we do. There’s a huge appetite for politics and I think we’re reaching some people who weren’t consuming political news in any way before.

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