By Kyle Austin
May 14th, 2009
Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor Alix Freedman sent out a memo yesterday to all Wall Street Journal staffers which detailed new social media policies and guidelines for reporters and editors.
The list of guidelines includes some instructions that are meant to cover the Journal with possible legal / source confidentiality issues:
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.
Others, that are meant to protect their content:
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.
And some that seem just foolish:
Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.
“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.”
Jeff continued on his point via twitter in a conversation with WSJ Deputy Managing Editor Alan Murray. Followed by a conversation (via Twitter again) with Tim O’Brien, the New York Times Sunday Business Editor. In following the conversation I get both sides of the argument. Jeff believes this is a strike against collaborative reporting (i.e. the wisdom of the crowds) and connecting with your readers. Tim and Alan see it as procedural and legal necessities. I tend to agree more with Jeff.
Yes, I understand that you need to cover yourself, but why do you need to enforce a policy that limits your reporters from sharing how a story was created? Did David Carr get in trouble with Times editors for detailing (within the newspaper) how his colleague Brian Stelter used Twitter to piece together a front page story on viewership of the Olympics? I’m guessing no. They probably applauded him. You see the Times social media policy is a little more open-ended and approving of “Twitter soliciting.” After-all this is an organization that promoted that they reached Steve Jobs for comment through Instant Messenger. The Journal on the other hand appears to be getting a bit too highbrow for its own good with its new guidelines.
Choosing the wisdom of a few over the wisdom of the crowds is certainly a risky proposition in today’s digital age. Especially when competing outlets like BusinessWeek are opening-up more by the day with crowd-sourcing efforts to build reader engagement, and ultimately more advertisers.
Here’s an excerpt from the memo (via Editor & Publisher) that details the Dow Jones and WSJ social media policies in full:
The use of social and business networking sites by reporters and editors of the Journal, Newswires and MarketWatch is becoming more commonplace. These ground rules should guide all news employees’ actions online, whether on Dow Jones sites or in social-networking, e-mail, personal blogs, or other sites outside Dow Jones.
* Never misrepresent yourself using a false name when you’re acting on behalf of your Dow Jones publication or service. When soliciting information from readers and interview subjects you must identify yourself as a reporter for the Journal, Newswires or MarketWatch and be tonally neutral in your questions.
* Base all comments posted in your role as a Dow Jones employee in the facts, drawing from and citing your reporting when appropriate. Sharing your personal opinions, as well as expressing partisan political views, whether on Dow Jones sites or on the larger Web, could open us to criticism that we have biases and could make a reporter ineligible to cover topics in the future for Dow Jones.
* Don’t recruit friends or family to promote or defend your work.
* 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.
* Don’t disparage the work of colleagues or competitors or aggressively promote your coverage.
* Don’t engage in any impolite dialogue with those who may challenge your work — no matter how rude or provocative they may seem.
* Avoid giving highly-tailored, specific advice to any individual on Dow Jones sites. Phrases such as “Travel agents are saying the best deals are X and Y…” are acceptable while counseling a reader “You should choose X…” is not. Giving generalized advice is the best approach.
* All postings on Dow Jones sites that may be controversial or that deal with sensitive subjects need to be cleared with your editor before posting.
* Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter. Common sense should prevail, but if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a Tweet or posting, discuss it with your editor before sending.
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