Times updates social media guidelines
Here's the memo:
As you know, the Standards and Practices Committee issued newsroom guidelines in March on using social media. We have now revised and organized them in a way we believe is easier to use (see below).
Although the document addresses a few new situations that have arisen in the last several months, the underlying principle is unchanged, one best expressed in the opening passage of our Ethics Guidelines: The Times is to be, above all else, a principled news organization. In deed and in appearance, journalists must keep themselves – and The Times – above reproach.
Your professional life and your personal life are intertwined in the online world, just as they are offline. Attempts, for instance, to distinguish your high school friends from your professional associates are fine, but in all spaces one should adhere to the principle that as an editorial employee you are responsible for maintaining The Times’ credibility.
As in March, we note that the guidelines apply to all editorial employees, whether you work in print or on the Web, or you are a reporter, editor, photographer, blogger, producer, designer, artist – whatever your job. Even if you aren’t using social media tools yet, you might want to someday, so please familiarize yourself with the standards.
This document is part of a series of guidelines crafted to help all of us navigate the continually changing world of covering the news. The methods and mediums may change, but our standards do not. These guidelines and those about moderating reader comments, using photos online, handling corrections and dealing with obscenity issues can always be found on The Times' library's intranet site.
There you also will find the complete Los Angeles Times Ethics Guidelines, the statement of principles and standards from which all others follow.
– Russ Stanton
on behalf of the Standards and Practices Committee
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.
– Standards and Practices Committee