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ASNE’s new social media guidelines

The American Society of News Editors released an outline of 10 best practices for social media this month. For any news person these are all good points to keep in mind — even if you don’t follow them to the letter — as you post and interact on social networking sites. Here are their 10 key takeaways:

  1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.
  2. Assume everything you write online will become public.
  3. Use social media to engage with readers, but professionally.
  4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.
  5. Beware of perceptions.
  6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.
  7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.
  8. Social networks are tools not toys.
  9. Be transparent and admit when you’re wrong online.
  10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.

These “rules” come from a collection of social media policies from papers large and small, and they represent a very good basis for news people to remember as they muddle business with online personality. Some of these are more hard-and-fast than others, but all of them should be helpful when it comes time for you to sit down and write a blog post or compose an on-the-fly tweet.

While I think some of them are debatable (personally, it seems absolutely silly to force news to break on the website instead of Twitter, which is quicker to post to and where reaction and context can be added and mixed before a full-blown story is formed), there are some good points. No. 1, for example, encompasses everything else on the list and should be an overriding factor in the internal “Do I post or don’t I post?” debate before anything is shared. Good ethics would naturally knock out Nos. 5, 7 and 9. And Nos. 2, 3 and 6 are best practices and probably the most important additions to the list. You can’t control the content or quickly correct it on the Internet, so you better make sure you’re only sharing what you know (or reasonably believe) to be true — and that you’re thoroughly vetting and identifying your sources. You can’t just delete a tweet (or blog post, facebook status update or wall post, IM, story comment, etc.) and expect it to go away — everything is archived nearly instantaneously and sent out on so many different platforms that once you write it, it’s scattered like ashes in the wind. If you say it, someone will likely share it or retain a copy. Make sure it’s clear and correct, even if it means being 10 minutes late. People won’t remember, or care, that you had it first. But they’ll nail you if you don’t have it right when you do get it. (If you need to remember why, just think back to January when the web was abuzz over Gabby Giffords’ supposed death, or any number of other oopsies that could have been prevented by taking a time-out in the heat of breaking news.)

What I found especially fascinating in the report wasn’t these key items, however, it was the appendix, which included social media guidelines for more than a dozen newspapers. The 10 points were annotated with actual text from the policies at papers/news services, including Bloomberg, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and more. That really helped drive each point home. But just reading through each policy, while none were terribly radical or radically different, was interesting in its own right.

If you didn’t already look at this last week, go download the report and read it. All of it. If you want to see more, Jack Lail has posted a round-up of reactions to the document (h/t Mindy McAdams for pointing it out). They’re somewhat mixed.

Your turn: What do you think is the most important takeaway? Do you think there’s another important piece the ASNE folks left off?

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