ONA’s Social media debate: Best practices vs. bad habits

This was a great debate at the Online News Association conference. Rather than try to sum it up, I decided to post as a Q&A.

Panel members included:

Eric Carvin, Social Media Editor, Associated Press
Liz Heron, Director of Social Media, Wall Street Journal
Niketa Patel, Social Media PM, CNN
Anthony De Rosa, Social Media Editor and columnist, Reuters

Q: Liking people and organizations on Facebook – does the terminology need to be changed?

Heron: I don’t get too hung up on it. I don’t see liking as a personal endorsement, people aren’t going to think you’re endorsing that person

Patel:– Should be following people who have the same beat, and follow as many people as you can

Carvin: :At AP, we recommend that journalists follow opponents of a candidate as well as original candidate

De Rosa: I think you have to have common sense, don’t go out of your way to stray from perception

Heron: It allows for more transparency, allows for more scrutinty and bias, but it’s worth it to be out there and more available to people

Q: When is it appropriate to be tweeting/sharing unconfirmed reports?

Heron: It’s all about the framing – this is not a new problem, it’s something we have dealt with with live blogging, and we have to make sure people understand that we are working to confirm details.
De Rosa: Cable news does this all day long, but for some reason social media is expected to play by different rules.
Patel: You have to be clear that this is unconfirmed and be transparent that they are asking for help. You also have to follow the news organization’s standard verification process to verify the facts.
Heron:  Bad information out there tends to get corrected really fast, We use storiful,(TK)  Google search for images, and metadata allows to check things

Q: Do you worry about the competition, sharing the tip with other folks who could hit the ground running?


De Rosa:
I tell the newsroom before I put it out on Twitter, but I see your point, I think things move so quickly that it’s going to be reported anyway. I think it’s a journalist ego thing to be first, I don’t  think the general news consumer cares who had it first.
Patel: It goes to the same ethics that are taught in journalism school – you need to be first, but you need to be right. (applause)
Heron:  … I think when it comes to competitive stories, people do credit other people with h/t and the discovery on Twitter.

Q: What about expressing opinion on social networks?  I get a sense that some journalists more comfortable being controversial on social networks, rather than on TV, in stories, etc.

Patel: The same could be said of bloggers too – because social has evolved so much. Two years ago I would have said no, journalists should not have opinions, but now I think it’s okay to have an opinion about things. And isn’t that isn’t that already happening. Journalists are beacons of information, They’re expected to be thought leaders.

De Rosa: People should understand who these people are, and where they are coming from. Even if someone doesn’t give any opinions, their opinions come through in what they decide to cover.

Heron:  I think we’re confusing opinion with who you are, and expressing really strong opinions about someone you cover and sometimes [by doing that] you risk hurting your credibility and the credibility of your news organization.

Carvin: I think we try to borrow the aesthetic of opinion without having an opinion. This often is confused with old-fashioned analysis, where you’re not [being opinionative – sometimes just calling a spade a spade and saying something on legitimacy.

De Rosa: A lot of this isn’t just social media, it’s something that’s come to the forefront.

Heron: I do think as a journalist you can give a lot of context and analysis instead of opinion on social media giving more to the reader.

De Rosa: [On our social media accounts] I will respond to criticism with facts and information and some people will never accept that information.

Q: Images make the social world go round these days – what are the importance of these images for our standards and policies – are we handing rights properly?

Heron: Visual storytelling is language of web, if you don’t have images, you’re not telling the story the most effectively. We rely on a lot of regular people to bring to our attention. It’s important for organizations like The Wall Street Journal that doesn’t have staff photographers..  we look for a lot of user-generated photos. And sometimes if you can’t acquire photos legally, you will have to walk away.

Patel: You have to think about how you’re going to use it online, on air, Instagram has more than 100-million users – some were posting some very graphic photos after Empire State [building] shooting. These were images we couldn’t use.
De Rosa: None of the lawyers at law school for journalists could agree on what fair use of photos should be. Think we’re going to see more and more of the ability to embed pics in a more simple way, that will open up questions as to whether you should be taking those photos. If you’re using in context of Twitter, it might be easier to use legally Though I admit, I’m not a lawyer.

Heron: Attribution is a huge problem with social media – you might not know where a photo comes from.

Carvin: I agree. I’ve seen scenarios where you think you found the person who took photo because they said they did, but it turns out they didn’t. They are just sharing it.
Heron: There are easy tools to see history of an image (cites Google image search and agrees  that ‘boots on the ground’ are best for images, but that not every newsroom can do this)

Carvin: We try to use social to be on the ground, and use crowd sourcing to tell the story if we can’t get to it

Q: Social media guidelines – Are we at the point we don’t need them anymore? Should these be shared with public?

Heron: My thinking has evolved. At the New York Times we said no we didn’t need a policy, things are moving so fast that anything we wrote down would be out of date.

Rather, we did one-on-one training. Now at the Wall Street Journal, journalists want a policy, they feel more comfortable knowing the rules of the road. I think you have to look at what your journalists need. It’s such an evolving area, guidelines can become out of date so quickly.
Carvin: We have a social media policy, some of them we have are because journalists begged for them at AP.

One of the examples were tips on how to do live tweeting. I and other journalists couldn’t understand why we can’t live tweet, so we learned we have to explain the parameters of tweeting.

Patel: You should have best practices vs. guidelines. [News organizations should] have a positive side of guidelines to journalists. Fast Company crowd sourced the rules of the road bringing in the community to help set up its guidelines.

De Rosa: If you Google ‘journalism handbook Reuters’ you’ll find [our guidelines]. The important thing is giving people the training, showing them how to get started … we also did crowd source what people think of our guidelines and we got positive feedback on that

Q: Do [Social Media Editors] need to exist? Do news organizations need a social media editor who strategizes, etc. or are we at the point that [they’ve] become irrelevant?

Heron: I still believe I don’t know if my job would exist in five years, I don’t think we’re there yet – that we can expect all journalists to know it. My hope is in five years [social media is] fully integrated and journalists do all of it.

Patel: I think that as newsrooms evolve they do need to become more social from ground up, but I think there’s a need for social media editor.

DeRosa: I think the job will evolve.  I don’t think the newsroom will have journalists embracing social media the way a social media editor does.

Heron: I think we all define what we do in different ways. I hope that if I do my job right I won’t have to training people any more, I feel that hopefully the job will evolve but a lot of the other things I do will be more of what top editors are doing

De Rosa: Everyone should be a social media editor within themselves and I think there needs to be an editor at the top to manage all those social media channels

Q: Should we use comments on a Facebook wall in a story?

Heron: I say yes, but it’s all about the framing. If something is sensitive, you may want to use your judgment so that you know the identity of who is saying it, etc.

De Rosa: You also have to worry about liability if they are saying something about somebody else.

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