The NPR News staff is a chatty group, on-air and online — as thousands of our Twitter followers and Facebook friends already know. Individual NPR journalists, from longtime host Scott Simon to new health blogger Scott Hensley, regularly muse online about their work and other subjects. Even the somewhat technical updates that our Digital Media staff posted on Twitter when we revamped NPR.org in July drew surprising interest and feedback.
Popular social media sites and services are great reporting tools. They help our journalists find and keep in contact with a wide range of sources. They also provide powerful ways to connect with our listeners and users and to share our journalism. But all of us at NPR News need to remember that, as journalists, we are just as responsible and accountable for what we say and do online as we are in other aspects of our lives.
Social media guidelines shared with the news staff on Thursday offer commonsense rules and reminders for those of us here who make use of these communication channels. Summarizing the guidance in an e-mail message, Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss urged the staff to "use social media for journalistic purposes and as a way to connect with the audience." Weiss also reminded our journalists — including the engineering, operations and news administration staffs — to avoid doing "anything online that will damage your credibility or the credibility of NPR."
In a separate message, CEO Vivian Schiller emphasized that the guidelines for the news staff "are relevant to ALL employees." The rules are mandatory for all company officers, as well as any staff involved with programming, digital media, communications and legal affairs. But Schiller urged those who "fall outside those boundaries" to follow the guidelines as well. "NPR is first and foremost a news organization," she wrote, "which means staffers from Finance to Facilities represent the face of NPR's journalistic integrity. So I'd ask that you please use your best judgment when it comes to your public activities online."
In the spirit of openness that social media often represents, we thought we'd share with you the full text of these Social Media Guidelines. (Please see below.)
As ever, we welcome any thoughts and feedback — whatever the medium.
Mark Stencel (@markstencel on Twitter) is NPR's managing editor for Digital News.
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NPR NEWS SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have become an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. As NPR grows to serve the audience well beyond the radio, social media is becoming an increasingly important aspect of our interaction and our transparency with our audience and with a variety of communities. Properly used, social networking sites can also be very valuable newsgathering and reporting tools and can speed research and extend a reporter's contacts, and we encourage our journalists to take advantage of them.
The line between private and public activity has been blurred by these tools, which is why we are providing guidance now. Information from your Facebook page, your blog entries and your tweets — even if you intend them to be personal messages to your friends or family — can be easily circulated beyond your intended audience. This content, therefore, represents you and NPR to the outside world as much as a radio story or story for NPR.org does.
As in all of your reporting, the NPR Code of Ethics (http://www.npr.org/about/ethics/) should guide you in your use of social media. You should read and be sure you understand the Code.
What follows are some basic but important guidelines to help you as you deal with the changing world of gathering and reporting news, and to provide additional guidance on specific issues. These guidelines apply to every member of the News Division.
First and foremost — you should do nothing that could undermine your credibility with the public, damage NPR's standing as an impartial source of news or otherwise jeopardize NPR's reputation.
- Recognize that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public. Anyone with access to the web can get access to your activity on social media sites. And regardless of how careful you are in trying to keep them separate, in your online activity, your professional life and your personal life overlap.
- Use the highest level of privacy tools available to control access to your personal activity when appropriate, but don't let that make you complacent. It's just not that hard for someone to hack those tools and make public what you thought was private.
- You should conduct yourself in social media forums with an eye to how your behavior or comments might appear if we were called upon to defend them as a news organization. In other words, don't behave any differently online than you would in any other public setting.
- Remember that the terms of service of a social media site apply to what you post and gather on that site. The terms might allow for material that you post to be used in a different way than you intended. Additionally, law enforcement officials may be able to obtain by subpoena anything you post or gather on a site without your consent — or perhaps even your knowledge.
- Remember the same ethics rules as apply offline also apply to information gathered online.
- Journalism should be conducted in the open, regardless of the platform. Just as you would do if you were working offline, you should identify yourself as an NPR journalist when you are working online. If you are acting as an NPR journalist, you must not use a pseudonym or misrepresent who you are. If you are acting in a personal capacity, you may use a screen name if that is allowed by the relevant forum.
- You should always explain to anyone who provides you information online how you intend to use the information you are gathering.
- When possible, clarify and confirm any information you collect online by later interviewing your online sources by phone or in person.
- While widely disseminated and reported, material gathered online can be just as inaccurate or untrustworthy as some material collected or received in more traditional ways. As always, consider and verify the source.
- Content gathered online is subject to the same attribution rules as other content.
- You must not advocate for political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on NPR.org.
- Your simple participation in some online groups could be seen to indicate that you endorse their views. Consider whether you can accomplish your purposes by just observing a group's activity, rather than becoming a member. If you do join, be clear that you've done so to seek information or story ideas. And if you "friend" or join a group representing one side of an issue, do so for a group representing the competing viewpoint, when reasonable to do so.
- Realize that social media communities have their own culture, etiquette and norms, and be respectful of them.
- If you are writing about meetings and gatherings at NPR — always ask first if the forum is on or off the record before distributing information or content about it.
And a final caution — when in doubt, consult with your editor.
Social media is a very dynamic ecosystem so don't be surprised if we continue to revise or elaborate on our guidelines at a later date. In the mean time, we welcome your feedback.