This past Friday, Washington Post Senior Editor Milton Coleman sent a memo to staff outlining a new social media policy, setting guidelines for employees' use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking accounts. The full text of the memo reposted by paidContent directs all employees to be transparent and clear about their employment by the Washington Post for starters, but crosses over into some sticky territory more towards the end. One paragraph reads:
"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. This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting."
On the whole, these guidelines reflect the expectation that journalists should always be objective and factual in their reporting. Thus, it's understandable that the Washington Post would want to ensure that their reporters cannot be accused of any sort of innate favoritism or bias. At the same time, it's easy to view the new guidelines as limiting, and you might wonder about the extent to which journalists can engage in meaningful discussions with their audiences while still operating within them. And if they aren't to engage in such discussions with their audiences, what value are they providing instead that their readers don't already get from straight news feeds? @RonCharles of the Washington Post's Book World expressed that he is thankful for the new guidelines, as the memo "provides clarification we've needed for a while."
Personally I don't think there's any denying that basic social media guidelines are a necessity today, and if your company doesn't have theirs spelled out, they should remedy that ASAP. But creating them won't be an easy task, and it will certainly be interesting to see how those laid out in the Washington Post's staff memo pan out once journalists begin to test the limits.