Social media: Some principles and guidelines

March 10, 2010

The rise of social media has brought journalists some powerful new storytelling and information-gathering tools. However, with these new opportunities have come some new risks.

At Reuters, we have just published some social media guidelines that lay out some basic principles and offer recommendations that should prove useful as journalists navigate what can sometimes seem a chaotic landscape.

In building the new guidelines, we’ve embraced some basic principles:

  • We encourage the use of social media approaches in Reuters journalism.
  • Accuracy, freedom from bias and independence are fundamental to our reputation. These values and the Trust Principles apply to journalism produced using social media just as they have to all other journalism produced by Reuters.
  • A distinguishing feature of Reuters is the trust invested in its journalists to rise above personal biases in their work and to apply common sense in dealing with the challenges offered by social media.

This last point is particularly important to me.

I’ve written in the past about how we depend on our journalists to rise above their biases to cover stories in an independent way, whether they’re in Gaza or Washington–or anywhere else.

As comments have shown–and will no doubt show again–there are those who will never believe this is possible. And there are those who would actually prefer to read, listen to or view only those information sources that confirm their own worldview.

Some news organizations have been more proscriptive with their rules or guidelines for journalists using social media–and it’s tempting to provide the rule-hungry with specific latitudes and longitudes of what’s acceptable.

But I think that approach sells short the ability of journalists to use their brains and to see–and report on–a world that’s changing every day.

That’s why I think of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism as a living document, one that helps us navigate that changing world with an eye on the future while being grounded in the ethical behavior and high standards that have brought us so far.

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