The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. -- the largest newspaper in the state -- is the latest to warn staffers to avoid personal or political comments on social media. Editor Kevin Whitmer sent employees a memo Wednesday that advises them to follow a policy of giving little or no political opinion on Facebook, Twitter or other such outlets.
But Whitmer is a bit unclear, noting at one point, "We do not intend to promulgate rules for how journalists should conduct themselves in an online world," then later stating, " ... we should not be posting photos, comments or links on our Facebook page that betray a political viewpoint or give critics an opportunity to suggest our coverage is biased in any way."
See the entire memo below:
For news organizations, social networking sites present a double-edged sword. They can be invaluable tools for connecting with sources and readers when used responsibly, as a place for dialogue where transparency is essential. They also provide an immediate outlet to promote our best work and biggest scoops. When they become the cyber equivalent of a barroom, however, our presence there can compromise our reputation for integrity, impartiality and insightful commentary.
We do not intend to promulgate rules for how journalists should conduct themselves in an online world. Rather, we would like to stress some basic beliefs.
When we get a job on a newspaper, we give up two things: the thought of ever making any real money and the right to work on a political campaign. Just as we avoid potential conflicts on interest by not fixing bumper stickers to our cars, we should not be posting photos, comments or links on our Facebook page that betray a political viewpoint or give critics an opportunity to suggest our coverage is biased in any way.
The Los Angeles Times has a policy worth repeating:
"Assume that your professional life and your personal life merge online regardless of your care in separating them. Don't write or post anything that would embarrass the LAT or compromise your ability to do your job. Assume that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public and knowable to everyone with access to a computer."
In all matters, we rely on our journalists' good judgment and common sense. All staffers, excluding our columnists, must know not to offer opinions on stories -- either in print, in radio and television interviews or online. While at work, use social networking sites for their good purposes, to share links to our content, monitor professional responsibilities or to deal with sources.