I was recently reviewing the SPJ Code of Ethics and in light of recent incidents such as Roland Martin’s suspension from CNN for tweets made during the super bowl, I think clearer social media guidelines should be established for journalists. The SPJ Code of Ethics doesn’t mention social media, as it was last updated in 1997 (prior to the social media boom of the 2000’s. However, I found a very interesting blog post from Steve Buttry, Director of Community Engagement & Social Media, Digital First Media, that speaks to this very topic.
If I were updating the SPJ Code of Ethics I would address the following:
Professional vs. Private
How should journalists handle their online identity? I think this is extremely important. Several journalists or commentators have been fired due to comments made via a personal social media platform. While some may argue that journalists shouldn’t make certain comments online, I think that’s extremely unfair. I don’t think journalists should have to live their lives as censored mute beans 24 hours a day/365 days of the year.
The current SPJ Code of Ethics doesn’t include a policy addressing objectivity and think that’s because objectivity is all but impossible in newsrooms. Don’t get me wrong I think journalists should follow guidelines and that reporting should be rooted truth. I think journalists should seek out facts and report it. With the use of social media for sources, fact checking has become even more important, but this idea of objectivity doesn’t serve us well.
I think what troubles me the most is that news organizations don’t seem to have a consistent policy for handling how journalists should use social media and what constitutes appropriate usage versus inappropriate usage. I think organizations need to have a clear and concise policies that outlines whether social media identities should be extensions of professional identities or whether journalists can express ideas and opinions of their own.