The Limits of Control


American Journalism Review

August/September 2009
By Pamela J. Podger

As a journalist, is it okay to describe your politics as “kind of a Commie” on Facebook? Do you stop friends from posting pictures of you on their MySpace pages? How about that video of you at the tailgate party going up on YouTube?

For journalists today, social networking sites are increasingly blurring the line between the personal and professional, creating a host of ethics and etiquette questions for news outlets.

In the past, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn were mined mainly for research and background, but these days more and more journal- ists are players in these cyber sandboxes. Age is no limit, with journalists in their 20s to their 90s exploring social networking tools.

News organizations—dealing with a flood of unedited, unfiltered remarks appearing digitally—are busily crafting ethics guidelines for the growing number of staffers using social networks. These documents aim to be malleable and adapt to changes in the new technology—be it using Twitter material from Iran with all the advantages and disadvantages of eyewitness tweets to hunting on Facebook for relatives and friends of a skier lost in the mountains.

Traditional newspapers are eager to harness the power of social networks to find and distribute information, but they also want to do it in a way that fosters responsible use. The goals are to identify the tripwires of social net- works, avoid any appearance of impropriety and ensure the information can’t be used to impugn the integrity of their reporters, photographers and editors.

In recent months, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Associated Press, Roanoke Times and others have hammered out ethics guidelines for social networking. These range from restrictive uses to common sense approaches. Other papers, including the Seattle Times, Sacramento Bee, Baltimore Sun, San Francisco Chronicle and Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, are in the process of doing so. Read More.

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