Washington Post puts the hammer down of staff tweets

It appears that the Washington Post has finally had enough of their staff’s free-wheeling Twitter postings. While we might all look at the thousands of Twitter messages that fly around the world every minute as being pretty harmless WaPo senior editor Milton Coleman thinks otherwise – specifically when it comes to the newspaper’s staff.

Coleman has been working on the news organization’s social media guidelines since May but as a result of the reaction to a couple of Twitter messages by managing editor Raju Narisetti (who has since removed his Twitter account) the guidelines were put into force a little sooner than originally planned. The reasoning behind the stringent guidelines all boils down to – a matter of perception.

As Andrew Alexander writes on the Washington Post Ombudsman Blog where the new guidelines were announced

In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers. Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition.

In the staff note that accompanied the release today of the guidelines Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli mentions this perception problem

“A few instances recently have been brought to my attention of items posted online that are incompatible with our standards,” he wrote. “As a result, we decided to accelerate the completion of these guidelines.”

He described them as “the first of what we anticipate will be several sets of standards and principles governing newsroom practices.”

The actual guidelines as quoted by Alexander in his post contain this about the perception problem

“When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.”

Another section reads: “What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.”

It continues: “Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”