Using Social Media

We are committed to aggressive journalism in all its forms, including in the field of computer-assisted reporting, but we draw the line at illegal behaviour. Internet reporting is nothing more than applying the principles of sound journalism to the sometimes unusual situations thrown up in the virtual world. The same standards of sourcing, identification and verification apply. Apply the same precautions online that you would use in other forms of newsgathering and do not use anything from the Internet that is not sourced in such a way that you can verify where it came from.

Contents

General Guidelines

No falsehoods

Reporters must never misrepresent themselves, including in chat rooms and other online discussion forums. They do not “pick locks” in pursuit of information, nor do they otherwise obtain information illegally. Discovering information publicly available on the web is fair game. Defeating passwords or other security methods is going too far.

Know your subject

Reporters should use aggressive Internet reporting techniques only when they are familiar with the way an organisation releases news. Familiarity with an organisation’s past disclosure procedures can insulate us from all-too-common Internet spoofs. Please capture, save and print a copy of a “screenshot” of the web page in question in order to defend us against charges of printing nonexistent information. If you do not know how to capture a screenshot, ask anyone with a technical bent to show you how. It is our best protection against vanishing web sites. Be wary of "unusual" news discovered on a web site. Do not treat this as “normal news” until the company or organisation confirms it or at least has a chance to respond to what you have found. Escalate such situations to your manager. Also keep in mind what we consider newsworthy. Personal information must be relevant to a legitimate story for Reuters to publish it. Copyright laws, and libel laws, apply to the Internet too.

Attribution

Headlines should be very clear when we have obtained information in unorthodox settings. In stories, we also must make it clear high up how we gathered the information. Retain those facts high in the story as it plays out. The reader wants to know how we obtained the information.

Fairness

The act of seeking confirmation of the news before publishing it can lead the organisation to front-run our story and announce the information before we have a chance to put our story out. This does not relieve us of the responsibility to give an organisation a fair chance to comment. Please make it clear if the organisation is unwilling to confirm the information.

Is it a hoax?

Do a reality check. Does this information fit within the bounds of what was expected? Any wild divergences are a clue you may be viewing information in the wrong context.

Blogging

Blogging is an informal approach to content creation that has evolved in response to Web users' need for a simple publishing tool giving maximum engagement with readers. Blogging is by nature a flexible format and there are few rules governing its use. Reuters journalists blog to trigger discussions on topical issues, point to the most interesting material on a subject elsewhere on the Web, take readers behind the scenes of our newsgathering, solicit questions for interviews, and to add colour, anecdote and angles that don’t make it into our other story types. In addition, blogging is the easiest way we have of handling multimedia story-telling and some Reuters journalists produce video blogs, also known as ‘vlogs’.

A Reuters blogger should:

  • Be interesting.
  • Be conversational: raise questions, invite contributions, discuss what’s happening on other blogs, leave some loose ends, and respond to comments made by readers.
  • Link to external sites with relevant information
  • Monitor other bloggers in the same space and attempt to build reciprocal links with them.
  • Tag posts so that they are easy for search engines to find.
  • Inject some personality into their posts and include observation and anecdote.
  • Make use of multimedia whenever possible and think about a post’s layout.
  • Credit the original source of all content embedded in posts.
  • Make sure posts are seen by a second pair of eyes before publication.
  • Ask desks to place a link to their blog/post on relevant stories.

A Reuters blogger should not:

  • Be opinionated. You are free to make observations, ask questions and make an argument, but blogging in Reuters is not a license to vent personal views. You are still bound by the Trust Principles.
  • Respond in anger to comments that appear on posts.
  • End each post with the line, ‘tell us what you think’. If you have a specific question for readers then ask it, otherwise let the comments box do the work for you.
  • Knowingly link to material that infringes copyright.
  • Have the colour and personality subbed out of their posts
  • Take an idea or insight from another blogger or site without acknowledgement.

Reuters use of blogging is constantly evolving and up-to-date guidance on how blogs are being used is available on the blogging wiki at http://wiki.ime.reuters.com/index.php/Blogging

To correct a blog, see blogs under Corrections, Refiles, Kills, Repeats and Embargoes

Online Encylopedias

Online information sources which rely on collaborative, voluntary and often anonymous contributions need to be handled with care. Wikipedia, the online "people's encyclopedia", can be a good starting point for research, but it should not be used as an attributable source. Do not quote from it or copy from it. The information it contains has not been validated and can change from second to second as contributors add or remove material. Move on to official websites or other sources that are worthy of attribution. Do not link to Wikipedia or similar collaborative encyclopedia sites as a source of background information on any topic. More suitable sites can almost always be found, and indeed are often flagged at the bottom of Wikipedia entries. It is only acceptable to link to an entry on Wikipedia or similar sites when the entry or website itself is the subject of a news story.

Using social media

We want to encourage you to use social media approaches in your journalism but we also need to make sure that you are fully aware of the risks -- especially those that threaten our hard-earned reputation for independence and freedom from bias or our brand. The recommendations below offer general guidance with more detailed suggestions for managing your presence on the most popular social networks. This is a fast-changing world and you will need to exercise judgment in many areas. In framing this advice we've borne in mind the following principles and encourage you to think about them whenever using social media.

Basic Principles

Social networks have been a great boon for the practice of journalism, on stories large and small, and Reuters journalism has been the better for them. Not only have they served as a conduit for primary- and crowd-sourced information, they have also given us new ways to report—finding stories and tipsters on Twitter, using LinkedIn to locate sources, mining Facebook groups for angles and insights, and so on.

Social networks also raise important questions for us, especially when we are using them to transmit rather than receive. The issues around what we can and cannot say there are a subject of constant conversation among us, so as this is not our first word on the subject, it will not be the last. The online world is as full of pitfalls as it was when the Handbook was issued, but the issues are more familiar now, so it makes sense to simplify the guidelines. Our wish is for people to benefit safely from social networks, not to muzzle anyone. Journalists are people too, with all the rights of citizens. If we want to tweet or post about a school play, a film or a favorite recipe, we are free to do so. When dealing with matters of public importance and actual or potential subjects of coverage, however, Reuters journalists should be mindful of the impact their publicly expressed opinions can have on their work and on Reuters. In our Twitter and Facebook profiles, for example, we should identify ourselves as Reuters journalists and declare that we speak for ourselves, not for Thomson Reuters.

When writing as Reuters journalists, whether for the file or online, we are guided 24 hours a day by the ethics of our organization as embodied in the Code of Conduct and the Trust Principles, which require us to be responsible, fair and impartial. On the one hand, these standards can be compromised whenever we “like” a post or adopt a “badge” or “join” a cause, particularly when the subject is relevant or even tangential to our beat. On the other hand, it might be necessary to “like,” “join” or adopt a “badge” to get the news. It should go without saying that no one may compel or pressure anyone to friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or engage in similar conduct on other social media. One of the distinguishing features of Reuters is the trust invested in the judgment of its journalists – and we will continue to look to our journalists to use their common sense in dealing with these new challenges.

We expect our journalists to reach conclusions through reporting, but they must also demonstrate the intellectual discipline to keep their conclusions susceptible to further reporting, which requires a posture of open-mindedness and enlightened skepticism. This is difficult to demonstrate in the social networks’ short forms and under the pressure of thinking-writing-posting in real time. But maintaining this posture is critical to our credibility and reputation as journalists. When in doubt about a post, tweet or other action on social networks, we must enlist a second pair of eyes, even at the cost of some delay.

On matters dealing with Thomson Reuters, we must observe our existing obligations of confidentiality and the obvious boundaries of discretion—for example, refraining from the disclosure of inside information, confidential personnel matters, sensitive information from internal meetings (all of which are to be considered “off the record”). But nothing in this paragraph or in this policy should be interpreted as inhibiting the exchange of ideas about matters that deal with our common welfare. Nor is there any prohibition on using social media for speech protected by the National Labor Relations Act, such as candidly discussing wages, hours and working conditions.

The tension is clear: Social networks encourage fast, constant, brief communications; journalism calls for communication preceded by fact-finding and thoughtful consideration. Journalism has many “unsend” buttons, including editors. Social networks have none. Everything we say online can be used against us in a court of law, in the minds of subjects and sources and by people who for reasons of their own may want to cast us in a negative light. While, obviously, we cannot control what others may post on our accounts, we must maintain constant awareness when posting to Facebook, Twitter and other online fora that we are flying without a net, and that an indiscretion lasts forever. At all costs, we must avoid “flame wars”, incendiary rhetoric and loose talk. We should also remember that by friending or following someone, we may be giving out the identity of a source. Everything depends on our keeping trust.

In other words, be careful. By all means, explore ways in which social media can help you do your job. But before you tweet or post, consider how what you’re doing will reflect on your professionalism and our collective reputation. When in doubt, talk to colleagues, your editor or your supervisor.

This page was last modified 20:23, 16 February 2012.

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