The Gatepost’s Kerrin Murray and Joe Kourieh talk social media guidelines

The Associated Press' and The Los Angeles Times' social media guidelines.

The Associated Press’ and The Los Angeles Times’ social media guidelines.

I sat down with Gatepost Associate Editor and Editor-in-Chief-elect for the 2013-2014 academic year Kerrin Murray and Associate Editor Joe Kourieh this past Wednesday night to discuss their opinions about social media guidelines and how they would implement them at their school newspaper.

This was the second time I’ve done a podcast with Murray and Kourieh – in the first podcast, the two editors debated about gun control (see “Podcast: Confessions of two Gatepost editors about gun control“). For the second podcast, the two didn’t provide and support opposing views, but they each answered four questions I had for them relating to the role of social media guidelines in news organizations. Also different from the last podcast, is that this time, we talked with Kourieh via phone.

Before we did the podcast, I also sent both editors a set of questions via email to answer separately. I’ve posted them below in Q&A format, before the podcast.

I wanted to talk with Kourieh and Murray about social media guidelines not only because our first podcast together went well, but for two other reasons as well: I learned a little more about the role of social media guidelines in news organizations in my Writing for Online and Social Media class earlier in the semester, and because of that, I’ve become more curious about the possibility of creating guidelines for The Gatepost.

One of my class’ early assignments was to analyze and compare and contrast the social media guidelines of two companies. I researched and wrote about The Associated Press‘ and The Los Angeles Times‘ guidelines. I’ve posted my take on them at the bottom of this post.

I took the above photo.

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Social Media Guidelines Q&A with Kerrin Murray

Do you think it’s a good idea for publications, and student newspapers specifically, to have social media guidelines for their staff members?

KM: Yes. I believe that there is an unspoken rule or guideline automatically associated with social media and the Internet in general. People know that what they post online is up permanently for the world to see. More importantly, for future employers to see. It is important for The Gatepost staff to apply discretion and common sense when posting anything online.

Have you considered creating social media guidelines for The Gatepost? If so, is there anything you can think of off the top of your head that you would consider including in them?

KM: I don’t think there have to be rules limiting what they can and cannot post, but The Gatepost staff has to remember that while on social media sites, they are representatives of the paper. Promoting articles or photos is one thing, and talking negatively about the paper or how it is run is another.

Have you encountered any situations working for The Gatepost that made you think having social media guidelines would be beneficial?

KM: There have been a couple of questionable posts on Facebook. It is actually comical to see, because complaining using social media will not help – talking to your editor will. With these types of situations I think that “unspoken” guidelines should be enough. There shouldn’t have to be written rules explaining posts should promote their work and not be used for unwarranted complaints.

Do you think social media guidelines should be made available to the public? If The Gatepost had guidelines, would you want them published on the newspaper’s website?

KM: I think that social media guidelines should be available to the public. Our constitution is available for people to see on collegiatelink, and I believe that any of our guidelines should be available (just to show that our editors are held to certain standards while they are representing The Gatepost).

Can you tell readers a little about how you have used social media in reporting for The Gatepost?

KM: I use Facebook primarily to “like” articles online and also “like” The Gatepost page. I use Twitter to live tweet at events and also to retweet any post that is affiliated with an article or an event.

How would you like to see The Gatepost staff using social media? Do you think their social media presence should be the same regardless of whether they’re using social media for reporting or for personal use?

KM: I think that The Gatepost staff should use social media as they see fit and to use it at their discretion. I think that it is important to differentiate between their online presence as a Gatepost reporter and in their own life outside of the paper.

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Social Media Guidelines Q&A with Joe Kourieh

Do you think it’s a good idea for publications, and student newspapers specifically, to have social media guidelines for their staff members?

JK: I think yes, it’s important that the Editor-in-Chief or Managing Editor establish guidelines for what’s approppriate for referencing their newspaper or members of it. I certainly don’t think these need to be very strict, more so just a set of guidelines on what you shouldn’t do (most of the things will be
obvious I believe).

How do you use social media? What platforms do you use? Have you used social media in your role as a student journalist?

JK: I’m not particularly connected to social media (I don’t have internet on my phone so Twitter isn’t nearly as useful), but I likely will be someday. For journalistic purposes, I have used Facebook messaging to contact sources, as well as arrange with our photos staff to take pictures. It’s useful because they have their own designated page and they can all see the same message, without having to talk to all of them individually. I’ve also found it very useful in contacting those who I don’t have email addresses or phone numbers for. Since many people have Facebook on their phones it’s getting to be just as quick a response time as a text message. Although, Facebook has begun charging for messages to people you are not friends with, which is annoying.

Have you encountered any situations as an editor at The Gatepost that have made you think having social media guidelines could be beneficial for the newspaper and its staff?

JK: We at The Gatepost tend to be pretty low-key and haven’t been faced with any social media misuse, but there have been rare moments when our editor told us that certain jokes made over social media have been risky. Guidelines would be useful in such situations, as it falls to the level of professionalism on the net intended by the individual, which varies greatly.

Would you consider creating social media guidelines for The Gatepost? Can you think of anything you would want to include in them?

JK: I think that we would easily be able to come up with a set of guidelines relating mostly to the appropriateness of mentioning The Gatepost or its staff members, but like I said, we wouldn’t particularly need it since we’re all sensible enough to know how we’re presenting ourselves.

Do you think social media guidelines should be made available to the public? If The Gatepost had guidelines, would you want them published on the newspaper’s website?

JK: I think the right place for the guidelines would be in our constitution, which is available to everyone. We could put them online as well, or just put the constitution online, if it’s not already.

How would you like to see The Gatepost staff using social media? Do you think their social media presence should be the same regardless of whether they’re using social media for reporting or for personal use?

JK: Social media posts are a great way to spread the word about stories, as well as get breaking news out before an article can be written. In fact, in the face of truly breaking news, as the events with the Boston [bombings] investigation showed us, many people tend to pay more attention to social media than actual news reports. That being so, it’s crucial that social media posts of breaking news are at least somewhat factual and attributed. And I don’t see this being a problem, for as social media evolves, those who use it in the best ways will be rewarded and will follow suit. Since we’re on a small, quiet campus, Gatepost staffers tend to have plenty to back up their posts of breaking news. Staffers can create whatever type of persona or presence they would like online when in personal use, so long as they maintain professionalism in all posts aimed toward and relating to The Gatepost.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on relating to either social media guidelines or social media used for journalism in general?

JK: Read the newspaper too!

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Social Media Guidelines Podcast with Murray and Kourieh

social-media-guidelines-2

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The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times Social Media Guidelines

Overall, the most obvious difference between The Associated Press’ and The Los Angeles Times’ social media guidelines is length. While The LA Times’ guidelines appear to be clear in terms of what the newspaper’s Standards and Practices Committee expects of employees, they do not go into the level of detail The AP’s guidelines do.

The AP’s guidelines indicate they are meant to help “advance” their brand and employees’ own personal brands on social networks. AP journalists are encouraged to have social networking accounts because the company believes they have become “essential” for reporting. Similarly, The LA Times’ guidelines express that staffers’ professional and personal lives are “intertwined” online, as they are offline, and therefore also encourage employees to have and maintain social networking accounts. The AP’s guidelines recommend journalists have one account per network that they use for both personal and professional use.

While The AP’s guidelines include a section dedicated to privacy, The LA Times’ have one bullet point under their “Basic Principles” section suggesting that even if journalists use privacy tools allowing them to decide who can view profile pages, they should assume everything they write online is public. The AP’s also state that, but connect privacy issues to journalists’ opinions possibly being linked to the company.

The LA Times’ have a bullet point under their “Guidelines for Reporting” section about employees identifying themselves as LA Times’ journalists. The AP’s state the same for its employees under its “Accounts” section.

The AP’s also include a section dedicated to retweeting on Twitter that indicates retweets with no comment from journalists can be seen as unfairly representing one side of an opinion, and list examples of how to properly retweet. The LA Times’ have a bullet point under their “Guidelines for Reporting” section about retweeting, which states that journalists should treat retweeting as they would treat publishing information in a “more formal publication.”

The LA Times’ also have a bullet point under their “Basic Principles” section about “friending” a source or joining a group, and state that journalists need to fairly represent both sides of an opinion or debate. The AP’s also say this, but suggest employees avoid interaction with newsmakers on public pages, and state that managers should not friend request subordinates, but employees can friend request their bosses or managers.

The AP’s also have a section about publishing material, which indicates journalists should link to AP content as well as content from other media organizations and shouldn’t post unpublished work. It also says that journalists are allowed to live tweet, but in terms of breaking news, staffers are free to tweet information only after they have provided “full details” to The AP. The same rule applies to exclusive material.

The AP’s “Sourcing” section states that journalists must verify sources found on social networks in the same way a source found offline would be verified – usually by calling the company or organization the source works for. It also says to confirm who is managing a social networking account before quoting from tweets or posts.

The AP’s “Interacting with Users” section says that AP encourages replying to people that comment on content, and that journalists must report errors or possible errors as soon as possible. If a viewer reports a correction that may or may not be correct, journalists should try to reply in either case. In the event of a controversial story or image, an editor should reply.

Their “Interacting with AP Accounts” section says staff members can retweet and share AP material, but shouldn’t like or comment on any.

If journalists feel that a tweet should be deleted, according to their guidelines’ “Deleting Tweets” section, they should contact a Nerve Center manager.

According to the “Corrections” section, after erroneous tweets have been corrected, journalists should tweet or post that a mistake had been made and explain it exactly.

Although The Los Angeles Times’ social media guidelines are clear and allow LA Times’ journalists to have social networking accounts, The Associated Press’ guidelines provide more detailed information about how its journalists can use social media, while allowing them the same freedom.

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You can follow Kerrin Murray on Twitter: @kmurray7.

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