How free should journalists be to weigh in on hotly debated topics on social media? There’s clearly room to have that debate, but if major media outlets have a policy regulating such speech, you’d think it would need to be clearly defined and applied evenly across the board. But at the Washington Post, according to some recently leaked internal staff communications, that’s probably not the case. It turns out that the Post has recently disciplined some reporters for sounding off on Twitter, but the application of the guidelines is reportedly not being applied equally along racial and gender lines. And most of the reporters aren’t happy about it. (Nieman Lab)
Last year, then–Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was formally admonished for expressing his views on Twitter. At the beginning of this year, Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was suspended, then reinstated, for tweeting about Kobe Bryant’s rape allegations. The incidents exposed a company grappling with what its social media policy for reporters should be at a time when news breaks first on Twitter, reporters’ personal brands are seen as crucial for building relationships with readers in an increasingly subscriber-driven business, and notions of “objectivity” (and its value) are shifting rapidly.
To help address some of these issues, The Post in February tasked a group of National Desk staffers with writing a report analyzing the paper’s social media policy. The committee surveyed more than 50 Post reporters and ultimately found “near universal desire for a policy that is clearer and more specific about staffers’ responsibilities and limitations in using social media, as well as management’s obligations to employees’ security and equitable enforcement of the rules.”
As the report goes on to explain, Ben Smith got hold of an internal memo from the WaPo newsroom related to the disciplinary measures described above. He released some key portions of it on Twitter.