Yesterday, Reuters released what could be called a “reverse step” in social media policy, which instructs their journalists to avoid bias and specifically instructs them not to scoop the news wire by breaking their stories on social media sites first.
While it’s understandable that Reuters seeks to uphold the trust placed in them by their readers, the policy is moving in the wrong direction as many other online content providers strive to provide information in real-time. Indeed, the past year has seen Facebook, Google, and other online mediums provide real-time results in their search content. Additionally, search aggregators, such as LeapFish, not only provide results based on the major search engines, but access to real-time results as well, all from a single query.
The instructions make it clear that journalists are to release stories via the wire first, and then on social media outlets, including Twitter, secondarily.
The policy advises Reuters’ journalists to seek approval from their managers before using Twitter for any professional purpose, and also suggests that someone within the Reuters organization check the tweets before they’re posted so that personal bias is not disclosed. Reuters also suggests that journalists separate their personal accounts from their professional accounts.
Jennifer Bruin at Mashable states clearly what seems to be the news organization’s major concern:
“[Reuters] is torn between encouraging employees to use social media and the realization that the online behaviors of their staff put them at risk, a sentiment expressed in the comment that these tools, if misused, could ‘threaten our hard-earned reputation for independence and freedom from bias or our brand.’”
As local and national television news leans toward becoming entertainment in the face of poor ratings, news sources like the Associated Press and Reuters are fighting to protect their main business services while simultaneously recognizing that news gathering and reporting is changing. As seen during the conflict in the 2009 Iranian voting violence, the “Miracle on the Hudson” aircraft landing, and the total takeover of Twitter, Facebook, and Skype as the only means of communication during natural disasters, social media’s already on the front lines while journalists are scrambling to arrive.
The BBC has gone the exact opposite route, according to Social Media Today. Their new director, Peter Horrocks, tells journalists to get on-board, or get out:
Peter Horrocks assumed the position of director ofÂ BBC Global News last week, and heâ€™s not wasting time with niceties. The self-proclaimed technology enthusiast is telling journalists to get with the social media program or get out.
While news agencies struggle with how to incorporate social media into their services and still remain profitable, it’s certain that social media, as a source of news and information, is not some trend that will go away in a few years. How the major news services handle this new wrinkle in reporting will undoubtedly play a key role in the future of how news is reported.