Today the LA Times released a memo to their staff regarding social media, adding on to the guidelines they released in March. I saw this update through Trend Tracker’s update on Twitter Here is what the LA Times added or revised.
SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Social media networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others – provide useful reporting and promotional tools for Los Angeles Times journalists. The Times’ Ethics Guidelines will largely cover issues that arise when using social media, but this brief document should provide additional guidance on specific questions.
• Integrity is our most important commodity: Avoid writing or posting anything that would embarrass The Times or compromise your ability to do your job.
• Assume that your professional life and your personal life will merge online regardless of your care in separating them.
• Even if you use privacy tools (determining who can view your page or profile, for instance), assume that everything you write, exchange or receive on a social media site is public.
• Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are to be avoided in the offline world, so too are partisan expressions online.
• Be aware of perceptions. If you “friend” a source or join a group on one side of a debate, do so with the other side as well. Also understand that readers may view your participation in a group as your acceptance of its views; be clear that you’re looking for story ideas or simply collecting information. Consider that you may be an observer of online content without actively participating.
Guidelines for Reporting
• Be aware of inadvertent disclosures or the perception of disclosures. For example, consider that “friending” a professional contact may publicly identify that person as one of your sources.
• You should identify yourself as a Times employee online if you would do so in a similar situation offline.
• Authentication is essential: Verify sourcing after collecting information online. When transmitting information online – as in re-Tweeting material from other sources – apply the same standards and level of caution you would in more formal publication.
• Using social media sites means that you (and the content you exchange) are subject to their terms of service. This can have legal implications, including the possibility that your interactions could be subject to a third-party subpoena. The social media network has access to and control over everything you have disclosed to or on that site. For instance, any information might be turned over to law enforcement without your consent or even your knowledge.
• These passages from the “Outside affiliations and community work” section of the Ethics Guidelines may be helpful as you navigate social media sites. For the complete guidelines, please see The Times’ library’s intranet site or, if you are outside the company network, see the Readers’ Representative Journal.
Editorial employees may not use their positions at the paper to promote personal agendas or causes. Nor should they allow their outside activities to undermine the impartiality of Times coverage, in fact or appearance.
Staff members may not engage in political advocacy – as members of a campaign or an organization specifically concerned with political change. Nor may they contribute money to a partisan campaign or candidate. No staff member may run for or accept appointment to any public office. Staff members should avoid public expressions or demonstrations of their political views – bumper stickers, lawn signs and the like.
Although The Times does not seek to restrict staff members’ participation in civic life or journalistic organizations, they should be aware that outside affiliations and memberships may create real or apparent ethical conflicts. When those affiliations have even the slightest potential to damage the newspaper’s credibility, staff members should proceed with caution and take care to advise supervisors.
Some types of civic participation may be deemed inappropriate. An environmental writer, for instance, would be prohibited from affiliating with environmental organizations, a health writer from joining medical groups, a business editor from membership in certain trade or financial associations
While the entire new section of the guideline is interesting I think the most important part is: Although The Times does not seek to restrict staff members’ participation in civic life or journalistic organizations, they should be aware that outside affiliations and memberships may create real or apparent ethical conflicts.
This idea is not often talked about, but is still important. Journalists have a professional life and a personal life which is often brought together through new media. Making the distinction between the two is often difficult and gets people in trouble. Often employees feel that their employer is restricting them and their social media use by regulating it.
While these guidelines are good and are an improvement over the older ones I can’t help but wonder how often newspapers are going to have to update their social media guidelines. I can’t help but think it’s going to be every few months, or at least as fast as the technologies advance.
For a complete guide to the LA Times Ethics Guidelines you can visit their website.