Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Washington Post to Staff Twitterers: Watch Your Mouth

When Raju Narisetti tweeted his thoughts about health care reform and term limits — he’s in favor of both — he was well within the ethos of Twitter, where everyone is free to spout off about any old thing. But Mr. Narisetti’s day job as one of two managing editors at The Washington Post means that his use of those 140 characters becomes fraught. After his tweets kicked up a bit of a ruckus, according to The Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, Mr. Narisetti shut down his Twitter account and The Washington Post issued new guidelines for its employees when they step into the social media fracas. Mr. Alexander explained the problem thusly:
“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.”
Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli issued a memo suggesting that there was nothing casual about tweeting, however easy it is to tap out a sentence and hit send.
“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.”
It’s enough to give any MSM tweeter pause, or at least a bit of writer’s block. Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz still found a way to crack-wise within the guidelines, tweeting in response to the new mandates.
“Under new WP guidelines on tweeting, I will now hold forth only on the weather and dessert recipes,” he wrote, and then added, more seriously, “Actually, I always assumed you shouldn’t tweet anything you wouldn’t say in print or on the air. Diff betw having thoughts and being biased.”  Read more here

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