Just before I spoke at the WWPR Media Roundtable a couple of weeks ago, there was a considerable amount of buzz surrounding the new Social Media Guidelines put out by the Washington Post. These guidelines were pretty stern and limited what a Post Journalist can say in fear of expressing bias on a topic or issue:
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.
I understand the point that Journalists for The Post represent a the paper at all times. However Stephen Baker brings up a great point that such actions also prevents writers from developing their own personal brands:
It seems that the Post wants all the good stuff from blogs and social networks—extension of their brand, traffic to their site—but without any of the problems that come from losing control. Yet the power of these social tools grows from the very freedom of expression that the Post editors are trying to rein in.
Here’s the way I see it: Social Media allows us to develop personal relationships with the people behind the stories, which in turns gives us more interest to identify people we want to read. Think of the fans of Tony Kornheiser and Micheal Wilbon that read The Washington Post more as a result, half the reason I’ll read a Bill Simmons article on ESPN is because I’m a fan of his podcast. Writers today need to find different platforms to expose themselves so they don’t become another faceless name on a by-line. Not everyone can have a TV show or a radio show, but they can interact on Twitter.
The Washington Post has to admit that the news has an inherent bias, haven’t you watched Fox News? Limiting writer’s expression on Social Media negates the benefits that it brings in developing your brand as well as a writer’s brand.
So lighten up, opinions aren’t just for the Editorial pages.