Washington Post Issues Twitter Guidelines: Signing Their Own Death Sentence?

Picture 13It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Particularly after the recent debacle over ABC’s Terry Moran’s tweeting out President Obama’s “jackass” remark, it was pretty clear it was just a matter of time before news organizations began clamping down on how and where their reporters use Twitter. Yesterday, the Washington Post jumped in the fray and issued its own guidelines. Some highlights:

  • When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.”
  • 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 credibility.

So actually pretty reasonable, all things considered: In all media that boasts your byline remain impartial, and don’t do anything stupid. But is it in the best interests of the paper? Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander points out the the Post (along with just about every other mainstream publication) has at times come under fire for being partisan. These guidelines aim to cut off those accusations before they can be made (and already senior post editor Raju Narisetti has closed his account).

But in this age of self-branded journalists, where power and readership loyalty is often the result of an audience’s personal connection with the writer is it really a good idea to remove all evidence of personality from the reporter’s product? There is an argument to be made that readers are savvy enough to separate the personal from the reported — and believe me there are a lot of journos out there whose personal lives I know far more about than I especially want to (mostly via Twitter), but I also tend to veer towards their work because I am familiar with their names and their beats (also via Twitter). With the ever increasing power of Twitter, rules, of course, are inevitable, but relevance is also key — perhaps we need to starting rethinking the definition of freedom of the press, if only in 140 character doses.

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