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Social media policies: to compete or collaborate?

Social media policies: to compete or collaborate?

You've got a scoop, do you tweet it or not?

As a journalist, your news organization might well have a social media policy which doesn't allow you to do it.

On February 7 Sky News sent an email to staff drawing up new social media guidelines. As the Guardian reported, journalists have been told they are banned from retweeting information from any non-Sky employee. The new guidelines include a warn for journalists to stick to their own beat and to the stories they've been assigned to. "Don't tweet when it's someone else's story. Stick to your own beat. Always pass breaking news lines to the news desk before posting them on social media networks" the mail says, according to the Guardian.
It also added: "Where a story has been tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff. Do not retweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter. Such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process."

The debate has spread fast on the web and, of course, on Twitter.

The Guardian reported the view of the broadcast journalists who took the new guidelines as a "retrograde step" for a news organization that has been known for being innovative in its use of social media (for example in the way they used Twitter to break news on events from the England riots to the Arab Spring).

Various different issues arise from this debate. Journalism in social as well as traditional media requires adequate verification. Therefore it has on Twitter the same expectations of accuracy and verification that it has on every other support, either printed or digital.

It's what LSE's Charlie Beckett calls the "line of verification". Retweet only people you trust and reliable sources, Beckett concludes in another post.

A slightly different aspect concerns instead breaking news on social media - specifically Twitter - and the priority that needs to be accorded to the news organization rather than personal Twitter account in case of scoops.

"Don't scoop the wire" was the rule that emerged when the Associated Press scolded two staff members for having tweeted the scoop of their arrest during the Occupy Wall Street protests first on their account on twitter rather than through AP itself.

A day after Sky News's guidelines, on February 8, the BBC laid out an update of its social media policy which states that journalists cannnot break news stories on Twitter before they tell their newsroom colleagues, the Guardian reported.

Chris Hamilton, the BBC's social media editor explained the breaking news guidance refreshing.

"We prize the increasing value of Twitter, and other social networks, to us (and our audiences) as a platform for our content, a newsgathering tool and a new way of engaging with people. Being quick off the mark with breaking news is essential to that mission. (...)
But we've been clear that our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible - and certainly not after it reaches Twitter", Hamilton wrote.

Is this a way to centralize and toughen the editorial control of information in a hyper-competitive environment - albeit one that is keen to collaborate and share when it comes to Twitter and social media - or does it just make clear the need to have a functioning workflow in an organization?

Does being scooped by its own journalists undermine the credibility of a news organization?

After the leak of Sky News' email to staff, #savefieldproducer become a trending topic on Twitter. It took its name from the account name @fieldproducer of Neal Mann, "one of the most effective and followed distributors of breaking news on the social media scene, according to the BBC's tech correspondant Rory Cellan-Jones.

"The effect has been to turn a young unknown journalist - a backroom boy - into something of a brand, someone who lives and breathes not just the 24-hour news cycle but the sharing culture which has emerged since social media entered the mainstream," Cellan-Jones wrote.

The social media revolution, he stated, is changing power structures in newsrooms and poses challenges to the news organizations that see their journalists building reputations independently from the organization itself, increasing the competition even more.

Last but not least, another aspects involves journalists expressing personal opinions through their Twitter accounts. "Retweets do not constitute endorsement" and "My views are my own" frequently appears on the profiles of journalists and media gurus. Journalists who use professional accounts must remember they are in some way representing the official name of their news.

But who owns the Twitter account? Is a journalist building his/her reputation through the fact of being part of a news organization or it happens completely independently?

When it comes to the relation between traditional media and social media which is the best path, to compete or to collaborate?

Sources: Guardian (1), (2), LSE POLIS (1), (2), BBC (1), (2)



Federica Cherubini


2012-02-09 19:09

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