Readers, listeners and viewers often feel they have a personal relationship with reporters. They like the way a reporter presents the news, that reporter becomes their favorite and the reader begins to follow their news reports. Like it or not, your reporters soon become the face of your news organization. They become celebrities.
When we think of news media celebrities, we probably think of TV people. We might assume TV reporters and anchors live by the rules of conduct set by the station or network in which they are employed. But we might not consider the fact that newspaper, radio and online reporters also need guidelines, especially when using social media.
Think about it. Lots of news organizations rush to get their reporters onto social media. They probably beg their journalists to create a social media presence because social media can multiply their viewing audience. Many reporters push back, reasoning that their added social media responsibilities are just another task piled onto their already-full workload. So, the way they conduct themselves on social media can be easily overlooked.
An embarrassing lesson
I have heard about problems with journalists getting themselves in trouble by misrepresenting their company on social media, saying too much, giving away in-house secrets or carrying on arguments with viewers. The biggest dilemma I came across occurred when a big city daily decided the best way to deal with financial cutbacks in its arts coverage was to get local experts from the arts community to fill the paper’s online blogs and social media accounts — for free. Maybe by getting the critics of the waning arts coverage to help cover the arts, those critics would stop complaining and jump on board. The thinking was that this concept was a clever way to resurrect the arts coverage without spending money, but it backfired miserably. Some of those agreeing to work for free began to write blatantly critical diatribes about the paper’s decision to layoff the former arts critic, and cut back on arts coverage. No one from the paper ever imagined the city’s arts aficionados would rebel, so their blogs and social media comments were rarely checked. Besides, who had the time to check? When the criticism of the paper was eventually discovered by the editors, the posts were deleted, but not without a huge uproar and some obvious embarrassment. Soon thereafter the former arts critic was rehired.
Suggestions for social media policies
Most media companies are taking full advantage of social media, but I’m betting there are still be a few that have not prepared social media policies. Here are three main parts to social media policies:
1) What they can and cannot post, and how to handle specific situations. List the types of posts your team can send, and what is off limits. For example, let your reporters tweet about a news story to promote it immediately after it is published or broadcast, but not about a story they are working on in advance — don’t let the competition know your story coverage plans.
Create a policy for specific situations regarding comments to and from viewers. For instance, allow your reporters to politely explain their stories and defend the stories if appropriate, but don’t allow them get into a heated argument. Describe the point in which a conversation should be cut off. Explain the point at which they need to take the conversation to their supervisor. Don’t let reporters give away sources or post inside operational procedures, policies or plans that should be kept within your organization. Criticism of an individual, source, business or organization should not be posted. State that criticism of their own news organization is off limits for posting; that is something to be taken up with management.
2) Suggestions about what they should post. Outline the kinds of things you would like your reporters to post. Prime the pump to get your reporters to become active on their company social media accounts to further connect with the public. In addition, explain how they can send posts that will help them gain sources for stories.
3) How to go about using information gained from social media. When reporters gain responses to a request for information they posted, or when they find information through searching social media, they need to understand how to sift through it all to use only the credible information. The public can post anything, and obviously not everything is true. Describe a few techniques about how to sift through the information. Explain that the tips they find on social media must be verified in other ways before the reporter prepares it for their report.
Here are a few articles and examples found online to help create your company’s social media policies for journalists: