Incorporating ethical guidelines into social media use: Part 2

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In the first part of this series, Marina Hendricks, a commission member and student in a social role of the media class, talked about how scholastic media might create tools in the growing use of social media. Now, others in the class offer additional comments and suggestions.

This piece will suggest guidelines – and hopefully raise questions – about principles behind such tools in three key areas: information gathering, reporting and promotion, perhaps the most problematic new area of social media use. Overall, students in the class say the legal and ethical principles guiding social media use are the same as traditional, or legacy, media.

Key areas students focused on and their comments:

Information gathering

• Information gathered online should be independently confirmed offline.  Interview sources in person or over the phone whenever possible. Students would verify claims and statements. This includes crowdsourcing.

• Correspondingly, the instantaneous time element makes it more difficult to verify spot news, so be upfront about non-verified info. In fact, don’t run anything on social media students have not verified.

• Specific links (not just click here) should be provided to attribute the source/attribution for any online resources used or indicated.

• Be transparent with the audience as well as sources. Let them know how you contacted people, in what context you gathered the information and how you verified it (or didn’t).

• Student journalists who insist on avoiding social networks are likely to miss good opportunities and great stories. If all your sources came from the Internet, they would skew toward the more affluent and educated. When you interview people digitally, you miss a lot of good information. Journalists must strive for diverse representations of sources in their stories.

• These new tools can generate story ideas, allow readers more interaction with the reporters, and increase the reporter’s ability to find sources and network. These are certainly excellent additions to the tool belt of resources reporters have available to them to do their job.

• Social media will not replace traditional reporting; its primary purpose should be in making initial contact with subjects or verifying quotes and facts after an interview.

Objectivity and credibility in reporting

• When using social networks, nothing can call into question the impartiality of student news judgment.  Student media must never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. … This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online.

• Ensure informed consent. It’s easy for sources to misunderstand your intentions. It is your responsibility to tell them who you are, what you are doing and where your work will run. Take special consideration with children and other vulnerable people. When contacting children, make sure they connect you with a responsible adult.

• Breaking news posts – all news posts – must be approved by a student editor. No exceptions.

• The student media site will not publish images from social media networking sites.

• Typos, biased language and even possible outright privacy breaches posted by individual reporters, acting without a system of checks and balances, will call into question the professionalism of student media and challenge its credibility.

• If the audience perceives biased or unfair coverage, they will no longer trust the student media as news sources and the capacity for elevating community dialog to issues of importance will be lost.

Promotion of student work

• Professional material (reporting and leadership) should not mix with private or promotional materials.

• It is important and valuable to promote our work through social networks. Student journalists bear most of this burden. But the newsroom as an institution is responsible for some of this work. When promoting your work:

  • Be accurate. It’s easy to sensationalize or oversimplify.
  • Be clear. If you are not a good headline writer, seek some training.
  • Always include a link and make sure the link works.

• Journalists must recognize that everything on their social media has the potential to influence their reputations and by extension newsroom credibility.

  • Don’t post information that could embarrass you or your newsroom, even if you believe your page is private.
  • Use the tools, such as limited profiles and privacy settings, to restrict access to your most private information.
  • Recognize that your actions can be misinterpreted. You may sign up for a group to get story ideas, but people may see you as a fan. State your intentions often, in wall posts and other notifications. When appropriate, tell groups when you are signing up that you are looking for story ideas.
  • Manage your friends and their comments. Delete comments and de-friend people who damage your reputation.
  • Social media could also enhance our outreach to the community. Using tools such as Twitter and Facebook, we can push students to our website by letting them know what stories we have recently posted. We can advertise when we are next distributing our newspaper. We can solicit story ideas, invite letters to the editor, or request feedback while we are in the process of putting our paper together. From a strictly practical standpoint, social media can allow us to let others see the great work we are doing more frequently, and, hopefully, engage them in a more earnest discussion about our role in the school.
  • Social media opens journalism to be a more two-way form of communication.  Reporters can find the people they need and readers can interact with the people their story had an impact on almost immediately.  They may not like everything sources or readers tell them, but at least there is feedback.

Resources used for these points

“Social Media and Young Adults”

Newspaper social media policies: Out of touch

Journalists use of social media

 Using email as a reporting tool

Online journalism ethics: A new frontier

News organizations work to set social media policies

Online journalism guidelines: guidelines from the conference

A tip of the hat to these 10 wonderful students, all journalism educators or commercially working journalists, who helped sort through these and other resources: Andrew Christopulos, Traci Hale Brown, Marina Hendricks, Judy Holman Stringer, Trevor Ivan, Lori King, Kate Klonowski, Jeff Kocur, Dino Orsatti, Chris Waugaman.

What points would you add, subtract or question?

 

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