Earlier this week, global news service Thomson Reuters released the new social media policy for its employees. Among other guidelines, Reuters’ journalists are required to break news over the wire before using social media sites such as Twitter:
As with blogging within Reuters News, you should make sure that if you have hard news content that it is broken first via the wire. Don’t scoop the wire. NB this does not apply if you are ‘retweeting’ (re-publishing) someone else’s scoop.
Reuters also offers specific guidelines for using social media sites as news sources in “The Essentials of Reuters Sourcing” chapter:
Handled correctly, material from [social media] sites can help us enhance our reporting, and our reputation, and this trend should be embraced.
It is important to remember that Twitter and similar sites are not sources per se. It is wrong to talk, for example, about ‘picking up Twitter.’ It makes no more sense to source a story to Twitter than to source it to ‘the Internet’ or ‘an email.’
This is in contrast to the BBC’s policy, which encourages its reporters to use social media as a primary news source. Still, Reuters does acknowledge that organizations and institutions are using Twitter to release their news. The new policy requires that Twitter be acknowledged as the source of information, similar to citing a press release. Basically, reporters must handle information discovered on Twitter as a news tip to investigate more deeply. Only senior editors can approve using citizen material from Twitter such as photos and videos.
More specific guidelines for Twitter are that reporters must receive permission from their line manager to use the site as part of their Reuters professional role, “Reuters” must be used in the username or at least somewhere on the profile page, and reporters must keep most details about their personal life out of their professional Twitter feed.
Online collaborative encyclopedias such as Wikipedia cannot be used as an attributed source, meaning the entries cannot be linked to, quoted, or used as background information. The original source links included as footnotes on a Wikipedia entry can be used, of course.
Other social media guidelines that Reuters has issued for its employees include the following (most of which are good points for any online journalist to keep in mind):
- Think before you post.
- Avoid raising questions about your freedom from bias. Reuters gives examples specific to Facebook, such as listing your religious or political affiliations, joining groups with particular associations, or linking mainly to voices on one side of a debate.
- Be transparent. For example, acknowledge that the news source is an anonymous Twitter user, and you cannot verify the veracity of the information.
- Use separate social media accounts for professional and private activity. Reuters says, “The distinction between the private and the professional has largely broken down online and you should assume that your professional and personal social media activity will be treated as one no matter how hard you try to keep them separate.”
- Respect copyright. Photos and videos distributed via social media still fall under copyright protection.
- Take particular care in attribution of unorthodox sources. This is especially true when they sources are anonymous or only known by their username on a site like Twitter.
Finally, Reuters has this to say on the topic:
We want to encourage you to use social media approaches in your journalism but we also need to make sure that you are fully aware of the risks — especially those that threaten our hard-earned reputation for independence and freedom from bias or our brand. […] This is a fast-changing world and you will need to exercise judgment in many areas.
To see some Reuters “special journalists” and online editorial staff already in action on Twitter, check out @BenHir, @BobbyMacReports, @MediaFile, @Reuters_FluNews, and @Reuters_Co_UK.
Source: “Reuters Social Media Guidelines,” “Handbook of Journalism,” Reuters
Source: “The Essentials of Reuters Sourcing,” “Handbook of Journalism,” Reuters
Image by ThomsonReutersLegal, used under its Creative Commons license.