N A T I O N M E D I A G R O U P
SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY AND GUIDELINE
This document sets out Nation Media Group’s focus in the use of social media networks and provides key guidelines to help NMG journalists in the use of such platforms without undermining their professionalism and compromising the company’s credibility as a purveyor of authoritative, truthful and non-biased news and information. The policy and guidelines are designed to be read in conjunction with NMG’s general Editorial Policy Guidelines & Objectives and the Policy Guidelines for Broadcasting.
Social media platforms have become important sources of news gathering for journalists. They are also major channels for publishing news and information to the general public. NMG journalists are encouraged to use them. While the use of social media in journalists’ working and personal lives has a greater impact, it is always difficult to draw a distinct line between professional and personal conduct. As an NMG journalist, it makes little difference whether you identify yourself on social media as such or not since your actions will almost always be linked back to your profession and ultimately to NMG as your employer.
- POLICY FRAMEWORK
The general slant of NMG accounts on social media network is that of a content provider. It therefore follows that information published on these accounts must always meet the NMG quality standards as defined in the Editorial Policy Guidelines & Objectives, the Policy Guidelines for Broadcasting, and the Nation Stylebook. Editors responsible for publishing to social media will ensure that processes are put in place to ensure NMG accounts provide timely and accurate information. However, for the avoidance of doubt, the company puts priority on accuracy over speed of publishing, therefore unverified pieces of information must not be published until a sufficient level of verification has been met.
NMG accounts will also be developed to play the role of a clarifier, especially during times of fast changing news events. The nature of communication on social media is such that often inaccurate information is easily spread and believed by the public. In performing this role, NMG accounts will make it clear what facts have been confirmed, at what time and by who. The Nation social media editor will be responsible for ensuring that the NMG accounts conform to this policy.
1.1 Social Media and News Gathering
The overall principle is that journalists using social networking sites as a source of news should apply the same journalistic principles as they would to any other method of newsgathering. A tweet is no more reliable as a source of news than a phone tip-off to the newsroom; a blog or Facebook update is no more reliable than an overheard conversation. It should not be reported until it has been independently verified.
NMG journalists should always be open and transparent in their social media dealings. The only exception to this would be where there is an over-riding public interest not to do so e.g. if using social media for exposing child abuse or intended breach of the law.
1.2 Publishing of News Content
NMG distinguishes itself by the way its news content is managed and published. Journalists must, therefore, take extreme care to ensure any news they publish conforms to established standards. To help protect this value, journalists are generally discouraged from publishing any news item in their personal accounts unless it has been approved and published on an NMG outlet.
There will be instances where journalists are cleared by a managing editor to report directly through their personal accounts as part of NMG’s digital-first strategy, for instance when covering fast-changing news events/stories. Whenever this happens, NMG’s key news accounts will notify the social media audiences. However, this exception does not bar journalists from using their accounts to engage audiences about news subjects.
In the event it emerges that information that has been published on a NMG social media account is not accurate, the social media editor will ensure that a quick correction is made and the facts clarified. Care should be taken to ensure that mistakes are not aggravated in a rush to put out a correction.
- GUIDELINES FOR JOURNALISTS
Social media networks are ever evolving and there will be need for frequent reviews of these guidelines depending on the experience gained in the course of time. However, two key guidelines can be deemed to be everlasting. First, journalists are highly encouraged to set up accounts and to be active on social media – it is a valuable means for engaging with audiences and, if used well, for gathering news. Second, always adhere to journalism ethics in all that you do – the fact that you are engaging online only makes your conduct more visible.
2.1 Some General Principles
- When NMG journalists make personal use of the Internet they should be aware of the potential conflicts that may arise. They should do nothing that calls into question NMG’s core editorial values.
- There should be a clear distinction between “Nation” pages and “personal” pages. Personal pages should not use the Nation name or association or that of any of the group’s publications or programmes .
- Always assume that all that you do online will at some point become public.
- If you use a personal account in any way for work, you have to identify yourself as an NMG employee in your profile.
- Regardless of the site, no one should disclose any information or engage in any activities that bring NMG or its journalism into disrepute.
- Whether on a Nation or a personal site, NMG journalists should not be seen to support any individual politician, political party or cause. Editorial staff should never indicate their political allegiance or inclinations, even if they are not identified as working for NMG. This means that postings should not contain partisan political views.
- No one should disclose any information that breaches commercial confidence.
- Keep internal communications confidential.
- When someone clearly identifies their association with NMG and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately when on social media, and in ways that are consistent with the Group’s editorial values and policies.
2.2 Social Networking Sites
Social networking sites provide an effective way for people to maintain contact with friends. However, through the open nature of such sites, it is also possible for third parties to collate vast amounts of information.
All NMG staff should be mindful of the information they disclose on social networking sites. They should be careful of what they put on their profile and who has access to it. They should act in a manner which does not bring NMG into disrepute.
2.3 Political Activities on Social Networking sites
NMG journalists should never indicate their political allegiance or inclinations on social networking sites. The risk of breaching this requirement lies in profile information or through joining political groups on sites such as Facebook. Such a disclosure can damage the Group’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. Whenever others add you onto groups, take the initiative to ensure membership in such a group conforms with these guidelines.
2.4 Consideration towards other members of staff when using social networking sites
Social networking sites allow photographs, videos and comments to be shared with thousands of other users. However, it may not be appropriate to share work-related information in this way.
For example, there may be an expectation that photographs taken at a private work event or while working with colleagues will not appear publicly on the Internet, both from those present and perhaps even those not at the event. Staff should think carefully before posting such material online and if they do, should remove it when requested to do so. Customising privacy settings on Facebook gives you a choice as to what you share and with whom. Personal use of social sites should not include offensive comments about colleagues or co-workers.
2.5 Blogging, Microblogging and Tweeting
There are two categories of blogs and microblogs. The first are those which are openly identified as NMG sites or sources (these use an NMG programme name or brand). The second are those which are purely personal and which are not intended to reflect the output or views of NMG.
This guidance also applies to NMG staff’s use of microblogging sites, such as Twitter.
A personal microblog shall not be used to break news that NMG has not published or sanctioned. Exclusive content or photos should be submitted through existing news processes for vetting and publishing. NMG journalists are encouraged to link to content on the Group’s and other platforms and not to copy and paste on to their accounts. However, they are advised not to link to unconfirmed posts and material as such action may be misconstrued as confirming the facts.
Microblogs are likely to be personal in tone but they should not contain any personal views which could damage NMG’s reputation on issues such as accuracy, impartiality or tolerance. Impartiality is of particular concern for all NMG journalists. Nothing should appear on an individual’s personal blogs or microblogs which undermines the integrity or impartiality of NMG’s journalism. In particular, Journalists should not:
- advocate support for a particular political party or candidate
- express views for or against any policy which is a matter of current controversy in a manner which would raise questions about the objectivity of their journalism or that of NMG
- bring NMG into disrepute
If a personal blog makes it clear that the author works for NMG, it should include a simple and clear disclaimer such as “these are my personal views and not those of the Nation Media Group.” However, this disclaimer does not exclude it from the guidelines contained in this policy. NMG journalists who have existing blogs should take the necessary action to ensure they conform to this policy.
Retweets should be carefully worded not to seem like they are expressing a personal opinion. This is very unlikely to be a problem when you are “retweeting” a colleague’s “tweet” or a Nation headline. But in other cases, you will need to consider the risk that “retweeting” of third party content can look like an endorsement of the original author’s point of view. Best practice is to contextualise the retweet to create some distance from any opinion it may contain. This applies to both Nation accounts and personal microblogging.
2.7 Offensive Material/Tone of Voice
Incitement to violence or anti-social behaviour or comments likely to cause extreme offence, for example racist, religious, gender or ethnic insults or stereotypes, are not allowed on any Nation Media Group branded space on the social media. Neither is material which is likely to put a child or teenager at substantial risk of harm.
Different social networking sites already offer different models of intervention in different areas. Where editors are responsible for NMG social media space on, for example, MySpace, Facebook and Netlog they should be aware of how these companies normally deal with different forms of harmful and illegal content on their sites.
You may wish to make “friends” or accept friend requests from sources. But remember that approving a “friend” may make other users of a site think they are trustworthy on account of their association with you as a media employee. “Friending” and “liking” political personalities and causes gives the impression that you are advocating them. Care should be taken in dealings with such social media connections to ensure it does not lead to activity that may be deemed as politically partisan.
However, for purely journalistic purposes, journalists can friend a newsmaker but should limit the kind of personal information the newsmaker can access from their pages by using privacy settings eg on Facebook. Also make sure that you limit interaction with the newsmakers on their public pages, for instance by not commenting on their posts or joining discussions on their walls.
2.9 Editing Online Pages
NMG journalists should not edit pages that relate to controversial issues or campaigns as this can be traced back to them and to NMG. This concerns publicly editable pages such as those on Wikipedia.
This document will be reviewed frequently, at least once a year to ensure that it is always alive to emerging trends on social media networks. However, whenever one is confronted by a situation that is not clearly addressed here, they should always refer to the general guidelines at 2.0 in determining how to act.