Because clearly the Washington Post wants to make sure its journalists don’t share a shred of their humanity with anyone. At least not on social networks.
This seems to be the perspective of the Post leadership if you read their social media guidelines recently presented to its editorial staff. PaidContent.org managed to snag the full version here.
Here’s my favorite line:
“When using social networking tools for reporting or for our personal lives, we must remember that Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists.”
The Washington Post – like many other companies these days – wants its employees to represent them 168 hours a week – while only paying them for 40 hours. The Post says that its reporters and editors aren’t allowed to have the luxury of private lives.
Here is another excerpt:
“All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens. Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website.”
Welcome to Oceania. George Orwell must be shaking his head in disbelief.
There’s no doubt that journalists need to stick to the tenants of good journalism while working on a story for their newspaper. But how is updating your Facebook status or engaging in discussions on Twitter – while at home – any business of the newspapers? I can understand asking journalists to refrain from discussing their personal opinions on the articles they are writing, but an outright ban on opinions seems draconian to the extreme.
It gets worse:
“Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic creditability. This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online.”
This, of course, is patently ridiculous and impossible to enforce. Are Post reporters in violation of the terms if they join a Jewish fan page on Facebook? Will that be seen as reflecting a religious stance? If they follow a politician on Twitter – is that an endorsement? Of course not. But according to the Post it is. Should Post reporters not be allowed to tweet support for a family member running for School Committee in their local town because it shows political favoritism?
If you have an opinion on who is stronger Superman or Mighty Mouse can you be disciplined for showing your “favoritism” in a blog post? Could there be serious consequences for choosing Mighty Mouse?
The Post’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander tries to defend the indefensible here. But Andrew does at least give readers insight into why the Post has made such draconian decision. One of there managing editors, Raju Narisetti, tweeted some personal observations about health care, term limits and forced retirements for older senators. The Post doesn’t want anyone to think that their editors have opinions outside of the editorial and op-ed pages of the newspaper.
As Andrew notes:
“In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers. Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition.”
But that’s type of thinking is impossible today. The web has changed everything. Penalizing employees for participating online – when they aren’t at work – is frightening. In an age where newspapers are on the cusp of being obsolete, the Post should be putting more of its communications and reporting online. It should be encouraging reporters and editors to be using social networks. The idea that reporters and editors don’t have opinions could be hidden in the past – but not anymore. The cocktail party chatter is now happening on places like Facebook and Twitter.
Preventing your reporters from participating is not only bad policy, but punitive. Journalists have lives outside of work. They should be able to discuss movies, books, politics, religion or anything else with friends and family on their personal time without the fear of being reprimanded or fired.
The Post should definitely want reporters NOT to provide commentary about stories they are working on or beats that they cover. But other than that they should get out of the way.
Or start hiring cyborgs.