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Social media that works
in high school newsrooms QT33

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Social media has had such a profound effect on journalism that it’s sometimes hard to remember how traditional news functioned before it. Reading this 2009 MediaShift article is a powerful reminder that Twitter wasn’t always the source of breaking news. In fact, as author Julie Posetti wrote just eight years ago, “Some employers are either so afraid of the platform or so disdainful about its journalistic potential that they’ve tried to bar their reporters from even accessing Twitter in the workplace.”

Not accessing Twitter in the newsroom? It’s laughable now. Yet for some high school newsrooms, this is still the case. Overzealous school policies banning the use of various forms of social media and cell phones at school cripple student journalists who need to learn these tools in order to survive and thrive in our new media world.

However, setting students loose with social media journalism without strong guidelines is just as problematic. Just as professional news producers such as NPR have developed thorough social media policies, advisers should work with their student edition board to develop a robust social media policy for their own publications.

A place to start when tackling this task is to look to professional models like NPR’s. This recap of a 2014 panel about the ethics of social media news is another good resource. For scholastic guidance, check out JEA/SPRC’s foundation materials or this 2012 Social Media Toolbox masters project — though a bit dated, it still contains some great lessons and ideas. For help convincing administration of the value of social media in the newsroom, Quill & Scroll’s Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism has a strong rationale and additional resources.

As you develop your guidelines, however, it’s important to consider both sides of social media journalism: not only how to use it as a tool to share information or report a breaking story, but also how to use it as a reporter seeking information — the importance of verification so not to spread misinformation. For this second part of the equation, the Columbia Journalism Review’s “Best Practices for Social Media Verification” and the Online News Association’s Social Newsgathering Ethics Code are good places to start.

Our student journalists deserve to use the same tools as the professionals, but they also need the same caliber of ethics and responsible practices to guide them. These guidelines must be specific, yet flexible, as social media platforms are constantly evolving. With guidance for how to post to social media as a journalist and how to use it as a reporting tool, students will be uniquely poised to take new media journalism to places we can’t yet even imagine.

Guideline:

Journalists should hold to the same ethical standards and guidelines for their use of social media as they do for print or broadcast. Editors should devise a social media guide with clear expectations and make sure all staff members are trained in the procedures before providing username and password information for shared social media accounts.

Social Media Post:

How can students use social media effectively in high school newsrooms?

Reasoning/suggestions:

Social media has become a critical part of commercial journalism: adult reporters use social media both as a reporting tool and as a news source. Student reporters should also use social media to distribute and research news, but they — like adults — need clear guidelines for its use.

Student journalists should hold their social media posts to the same standards as print, digital or broadcast news. Examining commercial social media policies and these JEA/SPRC guidelines will provide a foundation for editors to develop their own publication policy. Student reporters also need strategies for verifying information gathered from social media posts. The Columbia Journalism Review’s “Best Practices for Social Media Verification” includes tips from experts to help students use these sources.

Resources:

JEA/SPRC Social Media Use, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

NPR ethics handbook: social media, NPR

SXSWi 2014: Accurate, Fair & Safe: The Ethics of Social News, Storify

Social media toolbox, Hendrix Project

The value of using social media in journalism, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism

Best practices for social media verification, Columbia Journalism Review

ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code, Online News Association

 

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