Washington Post Cracks Down On Journalists’ Social Media Activities

    September 28, 2009

What is probably most ironic about the story that you are about to read is the fact that an journalistic icon, the Washington Post, is trying to maintain control of its staff while it can’t even keep an internal memo from going public. Having made that observation from the start you can see that this is not going to get any better for them. 

The information that has hit the media stream is the social media guidelines that have been imposed on the staffers of the Washington Post as the newspaper tries to hold on to some shred of integrity in the new world order. paidContent.org has ‘received’ a copy of the entire directive. Some highlights:

When using social networking tools for reporting or for our personal lives, we must remember that Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists. The following guidelines apply to all Post journalists, without limitation to the subject matter of their assignments.

Using Social Networking Tools for Reporting

When using social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, My Space or Twitter for reporting, we must protect our professional integrity. Washington Post journalists should identify themselves as such. We must be accurate in our reporting and transparent about our intentions when participating. We must be concise yet clear when describing who we are and what information we seek.

Using Social Networking Tools for Personal Reasons

All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens. Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website.

So you get the gist from the few snippets above and the rest of the ‘media’, of course, like the folks at TechCrunch, are up in arms. Personally, I see both sides of this one pretty clearly and as it in a world where everything is relative and everyone is right (which is just plain idiotic but that’s for another place and time) this is to be expected.

From the reporter’s point of view I suspect they would feel like they are indentured servant of sorts to the newspaper that pays them to do their jobs on behalf of the newspaper (without which, by the way, most of them would have no voice at all). I get that and I can see where the policy would feel somewhat Draconian. Reporters are people too and deserve a private life. One thing though is that life is full of compromises and this may be one of them in the new media world order.

As for the company, they are on the edge as it is because they probably feel like they have lost control of everything. Advertising is in the crapper and newspapers are the whipping boys of everyone these days. The last thing they need is to have a rogue comment or two show up in the hands of a competitor that paints them as a shill for whatever constituency might benefit from someone’s (i.e. a staffer’s) opinion.

I think this one is a lose / lose. Journalistic integrity is a myth. Everyone has opinions. The idea of fair and balanced and “We report, you decide” is pure marketing BS. It’s how far a publication lets its opinions go that defines who they are and what position they hold in the marketplace.

The Washington Post is just exhibiting the desperate state of media as it goes through the growing pains of once having complete control and ultimate power to being relegated to the sidelines of relevancy because it has abused its position for far too long. People are fed up with the mainstream media controlling the message like these guidelines attempt to do so this will not help their efforts to stay alive.

Oh, as for you reporters who are upset about this, just go out and start a blog! That’s where the real money is anyway! Great benefits too! In other words, relax. You should be happy that you have a job these days.