Newspaper Editors Still Irrationally Fear Twitter

Association issues 10 best practices for social media; most are neither best nor should be practiced

Last Updated: May 13, 2011 @ 1:30 PM

Twitter's been around for five years now, Facebook even longer than that.

Yet this week, newspaper editors set their understanding of social media back several more — issuing a set of best practices that, in most cases, are neither best nor should be practiced.

The American Society of Newspapers published the guidelines in an effort to discourage the kind of "uncontrolled free-for-all [that] opens the floodgates to potential problems and leaves news organizations vulnerable for the comments of employees who tweet before they think."

As Matthew Ingram noted on Gigaom.com:

There’s the typical media-industry bogeyman that lies behind most of these policies: the staffer who types things into Twitter without thinking, maybe even (gasp!) breaking news on the social network before his organization has a chance to craft a story. And what happens then? Chaos!

Ingram pointed out several examples of newspaper reporters breaking news on their Twitter feeds before their respective publications, which ultimately benefited from the attention when their stories were published.

Seems pretty obvious to anyone that's used the medium for more than a provocative toe-tap, but then again, I can think of several editors (the New York Times’ Bill Keller being one) who basically do only that.

Here are ASNE’s “10 key takeaways”:

1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.
2. Assume everything you write online will become public.
3. Use social media to engage with readers, but professionally.
4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.
5. Beware of perceptions.
6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.
7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.
8. Social networks are tools not toys.
9. Be transparent and admit when you’re wrong online.
10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.

Perhaps the only legitimately useful guideline in the report was a quote from John Robinson of the Greensboro News & Record, who advised: “Don’t be stupid.”

Even Keller would have to agree.

Click here to check out ASNE's full, expanded list of guidelines — presented in not-so-handy PDF form.

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