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Social networking policies: Getting ahead of the curve

Posted by on Oct 6, 2009 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


By Russell Hickey

When the Washington Post recently announced new rules for the use of social media by editors and staff, it was met with some criticism.  Last week, Howard Kurtz chronicled the reactions – both negative and positive.

The full-text announcement sent to the Post staff was reprinted by paidContent.

The policy behind the guidelines is understandable – journalists should remember that they are always journalists and should do nothing that would undermine their credibility or question their impartiality.  Unfortunately, social networking sites, like Twitter, are prone off-the-cuff, spur-of-the moment, out-of-context remarks.  Even following or friending certain people or organizations could suggest a bias that can undermine a reporter.

For the high school journalism student, the consequences of social networking sites may not be top of mind.  This could have dire consequences if an administrator is looking for a reason to reign in control of a high school publication.

To be certain, non-school sponsored social networking sites are outside the reach of school administrators.  Careless use of social networking sites by newspaper editors and staff, however, could provide ammunition for administrators seeking reason for prior review.  Thus, it is critical for student press advisors to get ahead of the curve and help encourage students to use some foresight.

The Student Press Law Center’s “Guide to Hazelwood” offers a “Fighting censorship checklist.”  The first item on the checklist is to practice sound journalism – which includes avoiding any appearance of bias.

It behooves students and advisers to think through these issues and potentially adverse impact that careless use of social media could have on their student publication.  A well-thought out policy for the use of social networking sites by newspaper editors and staff can be a critical demonstration of credibility.

Russell has a Bachelor’s of Journalism from the University of Missouri and a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas, where he completed the Media, Law and Policy Certificate Program.  He currently is a Senior Claims Specialist for AXIS Pro, a Errors & Omissions Insurance provider for media companies.

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