The Post’s New Social Media Guidelines: Protecting Objectivity or Imposing Censorship? 4

This post was written by Lauren McCarty

Social media’s rising influence on how journalists and bloggers collect and report news has been in the spotlight lately; last week, PR Week released a study showing that 70 percent of journalists use social media to assist in reporting, compared to only 41 percent last year. Clearly, journalists are increasingly viewing social media as a reliable, effective source to aid their professional commitment to delivering accurate news.

But what about how journalists use social media in their personal lives? Careers aside, journalists certainly can’t have been immune to the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social networks primarily used for personal communication. Journalists have an obligation to objectively report the news, so what does that mean for their participation in these interactive, highly visible social networks? Should journalists maintain completely neutral social media profiles to avoid associating their personal views with their professional reporting?

The Washington Post thinks so. After editor Raju Narisetti posted a few tweets hinting at his political opinions, The Post took a public stance on journalists’ use of social media, forcing Narisetti to close his Twitter account and distributing an internal memo not-so-subtly referencing his actions. (See the full leaked memo on PaidContent.)

The Post’s guidelines make some valid points. Journalists do renege some rights they’d have as a private citizen by choosing to represent an objective news organization. And as I mentioned in my post on journalism’s financial history, publications have a democratic obligation to report unbiased news. But when does the quest for objectivity become censorship? As more and more traditional newspapers give way to digital formats, will limiting journalists’ activity in the social media space ultimately stifle that publication’s creativity, growth and evolution?

I’ll leave you with some provocative comments made by Paul Bradshaw at Online Journalism Blog:

“This week a new nail was driven into the coffin of the notion of journalistic objectivity. The culprit? The Washington Post’s leaked social media policy. The policy is aimed at preserving the appearance of objectivity rather than its actual existence. It focuses on what journalists are perceived to be, rather than what they actually do.”

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