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Developing standards for social media use in your student media: Part 1

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by Marina Hendricks, SPRC commissioner

For “Social Role of the Mass Media,” a Kent State University online graduate course, John Bowen asked us to draft a position paper on social media as a tool for student journalists. I found it easier to think through the assignment by approaching it as a hypothetical letter from an adviser to students. Here’s the result.

Dear students,

Before we launch our Facebook page and Twitter feed, I’d like you to think about how you will use them in your coverage of the school community.

Keep in mind that our editorial policy applies not only to our print edition and website, but also to our social network platforms. As a result, your Facebook posts and tweets must be accurate, objective and fair. Information you collect from or share via Facebook and Twitter must be checked and verified – with no exceptions. This is especially critical for breaking news. You must get it right, even when it takes time to verify facts. Your audience depends on you for accurate information and trusts you to provide it. You don’t want to jeopardize that trust. Once it’s gone, it may never return. And readers and users will go with it.

Just as important, you must practice transparency. For readers and users, that means letting them know where you obtained information and under what circumstances. For sources, that means telling them how you plan to use information they provide. And as always, refer to the policy for guidance on anonymous sourcing.

Be vigilant about Facebook and Twitter content that is libelous, obscene, materially disruptive of the school process, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of copyright or a promotion of products or services unlawful (illegal) as to minors as defined by state or federal law.

Speaking of promotion, remember that you are in the news business, not public relations. You wouldn’t include rah-rah statements in print or online stories, would you? The same rule applies for social media content.

We’ve talked a lot about the responsibilities associated with being journalists. As tempting as it sometimes is, we don’t use our power of publication to promote personal agendas or settle scores. The instantaneous nature of social networks makes that even more tempting. However, I know you will continue to use the same exceptional judgment you bring to our print and online publications by remembering at all times that you represent (school publication name). I know your posts and tweets will reflect your professionalism as journalists.

Our Facebook page and Twitter feed give us two new ways to reach our school community. Use them to start conversations, seek feedback and provide another window into our newsroom.

Finally, take a look at our editorial policy and see if there’s anything you want to update with respect to our social media platforms.

Good night, and good luck …

Your Adviser

Resource: “Online Ethical Considerations,” provided through Social Role of the Mass Media, Kent State University, spring 2011

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