New York Times Clamps Down on Social Media Opinions by Employee's

Social Media Guidelines for The Times Newsroom

To the newsroom:

The New York Times has been a dominant force on social media for years. Our newsroom accounts have tens of millions of followers. Many of our journalists are influential voices on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. The voices of our readers, listeners and viewers inform and improve our reporting.

We believe that to remain the world’s best news organization, we have to maintain a vibrant presence on social media.

But we also need to make sure that we are engaging responsibly on social media, in line with the values of our newsroom.

That’s why we’re issuing updated and expanded social media guidelines.

The guidelines were developed in a collaborative way by Cliff Levy, Phil Corbett and Cynthia Collins, and are rooted in the very experiences of our journalists.

Please read them closely, and take them to heart.

— Dean Baquet, Executive Editor

Social media plays a vital role in our journalism. On social platforms, our reporters and editors can promote their work, provide real-time updates, harvest and curate information, cultivate sources, engage with readers and experiment with new forms of storytelling and voice.

We can effectively pull back the curtain and invite readers to witness, and potentially contribute to, our reporting. We can also reach new audiences.

But social media presents potential risks for The Times. If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.

We’ve always made clear that newsroom employees should avoid posting anything on social media that damages our reputation for neutrality and fairness. This memo offers more detailed guidelines.

Department heads will be responsible for ensuring that these guidelines are followed by all staff members in their departments. Violations will be noted on performance reviews.

How We Developed the Updated Social Media Guidelines

We sought extensive feedback across the newsroom in order to ensure that this was a collaborative process rooted in our journalists’ experiences. Several Times reporters who are prominent on social media reviewed the guidelines, offering very helpful input, and endorsed them.

Those reporters include: Yamiche Alcindor, Peter Baker, Rukmini Callimachi, Nick Confessore, Max Fisher, Maggie Haberman, Katie Rogers and Margot Sanger-Katz.

Here Are the Key Points

• In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.

• Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively.

• These guidelines apply to everyone in every department of the newsroom, including those not involved in coverage of government and politics.

Peter Baker says: “It’s important to remember that tweets about President Trump by our reporters and editors are taken as a statement from The New York Times as an institution, even if posted by those who do not cover him. The White House doesn’t make a distinction. In this charged environment, we all need to be in this together.”

• We consider all social media activity by our journalists to come under this policy. While you may think that your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media accounts are private zones, separate from your role at The Times, in fact everything we post or “like” online is to some degree public. And everything we do in public is likely to be associated with The Times.

Nick Confessore says: “The reality is that my Twitter account is a Times account. The Times does not control it, but the Times is held accountable for what appears on my feed. Indeed, the casual reader interprets my social accounts as an extension of our digital platforms, for good and ill. I think all of us at the Times need to embrace this as the price of our employment by a major media institution. (And in fairness, to the extent my Twitter account is influential or widely read, it is largely because I am employed by The Times.)”

• On that same note, we strongly discourage our journalists from making customer service complaints on social media. While you may believe that you have a legitimate gripe, you’ll most likely be given special consideration because of your status as a Times reporter or editor.

• Avoid joining private and “secret” groups on Facebook and other platforms that may have a partisan orientation. You should also refrain from registering for partisan events on social media. If you are joining these groups for reporting purposes, please take care in what you post.

• Always treat others with respect on social media. If a reader questions or criticizes your work or social media post, and you would like to respond, be thoughtful. Do not imply that the person hasn’t carefully read your work.

• If the criticism is especially aggressive or inconsiderate, it’s probably best to refrain from responding. We also support the right of our journalists to mute or block people on social media who are threatening or abusive. (But please avoid muting or blocking people for mere criticism of you or your reporting.)

Rukmini Callimachi says: “I used to get really upset and respond to abuse — which only made it worse. What I finally discovered is that if I just aggressively block the abusive people, I can control the flow — and that’s, I think, because people who speak that way to women are generally followed by other people who think it’s O.K. to use crass words. By blocking anyone and everyone who uses abusive terms, I am able to halt the conversation. I think this is especially important as a strategy for women, at a time when people think that rape memes are a good way to respond to a story they don’t like by a female New York Times writer.”

• If you feel threatened by someone on social media, please inform your supervisors immediately. The Times has policies in place to protect the safety of our journalists.

• We believe in the value of using social media to provide live coverage and to offer live updates. But there may be times when we prefer that our journalists focus their first efforts on our own digital platforms.

• We generally want to publish exclusives on our own platforms first, not on social media, but there may be instances when it makes sense to post first on social media. Consult your supervisors for guidance.

• Be transparent. If you tweeted an error or something inappropriate and wish to delete the tweet, be sure to quickly acknowledge the deletion in a subsequent tweet. Please consult our social media corrections policy for guidance.

• If you are linking to other sources, aim to reflect a diverse collection of viewpoints. Sharing a range of news, opinions or satire from others is usually appropriate. But consistently linking to only one side of a debate can leave the impression that you, too, are taking sides.

• Exercise caution when sharing scoops or provocative stories from other organizations that The Times has not yet confirmed. In some cases, a tweet of another outlet’s story by a Times reporter has been interpreted as The Times confirming the story, when it in fact has not.

• We want our journalists to feel that they can use social media to experiment with voice, framing and reporting styles — particularly when such experiments lead to new types of storytelling on The Times’s platforms.

Margot Sanger-Katz says: “Part of what’s fun and interesting about these other platforms is that they are a little different from The Times’s article pages in tone and framing: You can ask questions about things you don’t know, make little jokes, express surprise, share others’ work, etc. Part of why I find Twitter useful, and a worthwhile use of my time, is that I find it helpful to engage in conversation with experts and readers and test out ideas in a less formal way and with less certainty than I would in an article. (That said, I am always conscious that any of my tweets can end up getting quoted elsewhere as the statements of a Times reporter.)”

• Of course, it’s worth emphasizing again that just because our journalists can try new things on social media, that does not mean they have a license to veer into editorializing or opinion.

If You’re Still Unsure About What You’re Posting

• If you don’t know whether a social media post conforms to Times standards, ask yourself these questions:

1. Would you express similar views in an article on The Times’s platforms?

2. Would someone who reads your post have grounds for believing that you are biased on a particular issue?

3. If readers see your post and notice that you’re a Times journalist, would that affect their view of The Times’s news coverage as fair and impartial?

4. Could your post hamper your colleagues’ ability to effectively do their jobs?

5. If someone were to look at your entire social media feed, including links and retweets, would they have doubts about your ability to cover news events in a fair and impartial way?

Maggie Haberman says: “Before you post, ask yourself: Is this something that needs to be said, is it something that needs to be said by you, and is it something that needs to be said by you right now? If you answer no to any of the three, it’s best not to rush ahead.”

As always, if you are unsure, please consult with your supervisor or other newsroom leaders about your social media practices.

In addition to these social media guidelines, staff members should be familiar with and follow the newsroom’s Ethical Journalism guidelines, which apply here as well.

And Finally …

As you can see, we have tried to strike a balance. We want our newsroom to embrace social media, which offers us so many opportunities to connect with readers, listeners and viewers (not to mention sources), extending the reach of The Times. But we also hope that our journalists will take to heart these social media guidelines — and especially the insights that we have collected from our colleagues about how to engage on these platforms.

We warmly welcome your feedback. Please contact Cliff Levy, Phil Corbett or Cynthia Collins with questions about these guidelines. Given the dynamic nature of social media, we are sure that the guidelines will continue to evolve.


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