Missing the point

The Wall Street Journal’s rules for Twitter and the internet rob the paper and its reporters of a few key benefits. Among the rules:

* Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.
* Don’t discuss articles that haven’t been published, meetings you’ve attended or plan to attend with staff or sources, or interviews that you’ve conducted. . . .
* Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter. Common sense should prevail, but if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a Tweet or posting, discuss it with your editor before sending.

This misses the chance to make their reporting collaborative. Of course, they should discuss how an article was made. Of course, they should talk about stories as they in progress. Net natives – as WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch calls them – understand this.

Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. also provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper – a voice that is less and less trusted – and to become human. Of course, they should mix business and pleasure.

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  • http://www.consumercentric.com Maury Giles

    Totally agree… as a former reporter, this is clearly indicative of the editorial mentality of strict “objectivity”, or at least the pursuit of it. However, papers would do well to pursue critical diversity through open sharing of who they are, what they believe, and how they feel… rather than hide behind the impossible ideal of objectivity.

  • http://web.me.com/steve.cusumano Steve Cusumano

    I agree with the main point, but I also see why it’s important to a) have a written policy in place for dealing with social media, and b) recognize the dangers that exists with sharing “inside-info” on stories that haven’t been written yet or information about upcoming interviews, particularly when it comes to investigative reporting.

    Not saying newspapers can’t afford to be more open about how they report stories and collect sources, just that like anything else common sense has to be used. Something as strict as the WSJ’s rules is counter-productive, but so is not having any policies at all.

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  • http://yigg.de michael reuter

    Don’t bother – see what WSJ’s twitterati think about those guidelines: http://redir.ec/GxRD

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  • http://www.twitter.com/javurek Adam Jav?rek

    Agree. First thing that popped in my mind, when I read about the new WSJ rules, was that it’s strongly against “new news process” as you described it here http://buzzmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/mediachartprocess.png

  • http://singlepayercentral.com singlepayer

    Whoever made these “rules” needs to chill. It is amazing that technology developed by creative people in such a creative atmosphere can so quickly be drained of all spontaneity, creativity, and plain old fun.

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  • http://www.attentionmax.com Max Kalehoff

    Seems the WSJ just issued a long-winded policy on how to be opaque with the public and markets it covers and depends on. Not a friendly or mutually beneficial approach in which to get things done.

  • http://www.ivandylko.blogspot.com ivan dylko

    See my reaction to this post on my own blog:

    http://ivandylko.blogspot.com/2009/05/speaking-of-old-journalistic-norms.html

    In a word – I absolutely agree with you, Jeff – WSJ would be well-served by being more open.

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  • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

    This reads to me like lawyer-speak. I agree with our host that reporters should be engaged in dialog with the readers, talking about what they know as opposed to what they’re allowed to say.

    But there is a legal reality once a bunch of reporters get together and become part of a corporate entity. Social networks are petri dishes for accusations of slander or plagiarism, as well as the lesser (from a legal perspective) charges of favoritism, conflict of interest, and “gaffe”-making.

    Maybe the problem isn’t the rules, but the corporate structure itself? Where’s the model that gives reporters the resources (read: money) and heft (read: consistent access to large numbers of readers/voters/customers) to be able to get access, ask the right questions and report the news, but leaves them independent enough to stand or fall on their own merits without “reflecting on the paper?”

  • invitedmedia

    “don’t”, “don’t”, “never”, should not” reads the memo.

    on one hand they want those who still have a freakin job in journalism to DO more with far less, then they turn around with this?

    “do”, do”, “always”, “should consider” might be a better approach for “the future of journalism”.

  • Sonya Hua

    I completely agree. Twitter is a social media outlet! It is an network that thrives on business, pleasure, and especially everything else in between. Mixing business with pleasure touches people on a more personal and purposeful level. You reach a far greater crowd in doing so too. Kind of reminds me of Google’s principle that you don’t need a suit to be serious.

    Also, these so called “rules” obviously have not read up on the interests of our present and future generations.

  • Ken Sands

    Agree completely. Use technology and interactivity to do better journalism. The more connected you are, the better informed you are, the more sources you have the better your journalism will be. I understand where those rules are coming from, but they do miss the point entirely.

  • Alexandra

    ¿And why should the voice of many others be trusted? As if in Internet lies were not making a lot more of presence.
    They should discuss whenever they find it positive or enhancing, but not just because of the network stuff. Not all voices are always required, and it doesn’t really matter what newspapers say nowadays when connection between people all over the world is becoming more direct.
    As readers we have many sources now, and we decide to compare them, but you can never believe in only one with closed eyes.

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  • http://twitter.com/kawika Kawika Holbrook

    I don’t agree with the rules — charge for content, put reporting above the masses, don’t mix business and pleasure — but I see how they help News Corp burnish the WSJ’s “elite” brand. Whether that works to the Journal’s ultimate advantage is another story.

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  • Chinanksi

    Puhleeze. A newspaper doesn’t want its reporters TIPPING THEIR HANDS TO COMPETITORS ON WHAT THEY ARE WORKING ON and you translate this as being out of touch. A newspaper doesn’t want reporters to be DUMB ENOUGH TO HAVE CONFIDENTIAL SOURCES AS FRIENDS ON FB OR FOLLOWERS ON TWITTER and they are out of touch.

    Read between the lines for once. Wait until the first confidential source is outed because of a FB or Twitter connection and then lets see what you think of the WSJ policies.

    Picture Twitter in 1973. CarlB@BobW Just met deep throat in parking lot, says it was Halderman!

    Think before you dismiss everything a media company does as being out of touch.

    • http://www.ivandylko.blogspot.com ivan dylko

      This would indeed be stupid for reporters to publicize their confidential sources, or to tell the world about something exclusive they are working on – so their competitors steal their ideas… But, this is one extreme. Another extreme is to leave and work from “the undisclosed location” and have no interaction and input from the people who care (aka prosumers). The reasonable approach is in the middle – and this is what Jeff and most other people here are advocating…

  • Also watching

    Jeff : Considering that Dow Jones is doing better in this media and economic environment than anyone else — including and especially the groups that you’ve been advising for years — maybe they know what they’re doing over there.

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  • Robert Levine

    >>>Puhleeze. A newspaper doesn’t want its reporters TIPPING THEIR HANDS TO COMPETITORS ON WHAT THEY ARE WORKING ON and you translate this as being out of touch. A newspaper doesn’t want reporters to be DUMB ENOUGH TO HAVE CONFIDENTIAL SOURCES AS FRIENDS ON FB OR FOLLOWERS ON TWITTER and they are out of touch.

    I agree. This is not out of touch – it is smart business. One of the reasons my sources talk to me is that they know I put my work ahead of my desire to get a following on social media services.

    Also, there’s a very real legal issue here that Jeff is, as usual, ignoring. If a Twitter account becomes part of the reporting process, the newspaper or magazine in question has full liability for any libel committed on it.

    If I understand correctly, you’re basically advising media organizations to reveal their business plans, accept liability for unsupervised personnel and spend time generating content in a medium where no ads are sold. Great advice!!!

  • Andy Freeman

    > accept liability for unsupervised personnel

    Good thing that they don’t let said unsupervised personnel drive. Oh wait – they do.

    They already have liability for unsupervised personnel.

    However, the dig at reporters as untrustworthy is interesting.

    If reporters aren’t trusted by their employers, why should I trust them? And no, editors can’t be the answer because they’re subject to the same need for supervision and aren’t gathering info.

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  • Robert Levine

    >>>Good thing that they don’t let said unsupervised personnel drive. Oh wait – they do.

    >>>If reporters aren’t trusted by their employers, why should I trust them? And no, editors can’t be the answer because they’re subject to the same need for supervision and aren’t gathering info.

    This is just silly. People who drive have liability insurance. Newspapers do not have Twitter libel insurance.

    Secondly, editors aren’t the answer – the system is. The whole point of editing is that a system – with editors, top-editors, copy-editors, etc. – is far less fallible than an individual.

    For example, an editor might have pointed out that the relationship between driving (individual liability, in most cases) and libel (company liability in most case) is dubious at best. Than again, thinking before you type might help also!

  • http://growingsuccessfulonlinecommunities.com Angela Connor

    You know what Jeff? There is still time for people to make mistakes with guidelines, realize they were mistakes and reverse them. As someone who is crafting social media guidelines for a news organization I understand and have communicated to the top that some of this has to be fluid. You may have a guideline that sounded great 3 weeks ago but needs to be tweaked, or that was flat out wrong. If that is the case, do something about it, quickly. The thing is (and we know newspapers aren’t very good at this) you have to have flexible editors and a culture where reporters and others can speak up without fear. Newspapers get so caught up in rules and FOLLOWING them to the death so no one looks bad, and that has to change. If you got it wrong, fix it. Come on, this isn’t rocket science so let’s not turn it into that. A cultural shift is needed in a big way!
    Angela Connor | @communitygirl

  • Mike Manitoba

    Let’s all just get drunk and make love.

  • Andy Freeman

    > People who drive have liability insurance.

    Employers are liable for what their employees do as part of their work. Yes, some reporters take mass transit and/or work, but unless the rest teleport, their employers are liable for any at-fault driving accidents.

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  • Rob Levine

    >>>Employers are liable for what their employees do as part of their work.

    Exactly my point! And they have insurance that covers employees _when they’re doing their jobs_ – not when they’re messing around with Twitter.

    If you defame someone with Twitter, without checking facts, you can get sued.

    -r

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  • http://online-discount-stock-brokers.blogspot.com brokerage

    OHH Some very interesting and insightful thoughts. I like this.

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  • James

    Gotta say all this schtuff about “collaborative reporting” is, I believe, a very bad idea. Journalism has already “become death, destroyer of fact.”

    I don’t really see what the value in watering down an already watery story with collaboration. Research the story (hint: guys, you might want to re-discover this requirement of journalism), write the copy, publish it, take flack for uncovering “the truth”.

    That’s how it is supposed to happen, no?

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