Navigating Social Media: New Guidelines For Journalists

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.



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5 responses to “Navigating Social Media: New Guidelines For Journalists

  1. Great points, Marcie. I think the code is seriously outdated if it doesn’t include social media, and that’s a problem for working journalists who are being encouraged/forced by their employers to use social media.

    • When I was at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Atlanta, Matt Thompson, from NPR, announced that he was working on a new code for journalists that would include a section on social media. I look forward to seeing this newly released version, as we all need some guidance!

  2. I think your point about professional vs. private online identity poses perhaps the most ethical challenges for journalists. In “The Facebook Effect,” David Kirkpatrick asserts that Mark Zuckerberg thinks that people should be totally transparent in their online identities and anything less is a failure of their own personal integrity.

    On the one hand, journalists should be “objective.” On the other, people are allowed to have opinions, and should be able to express them under the First Amendment. As you stated above, true objectivity just isn’t possible. If we do allow journalists to say whatever they think in their own time, i.e. when not representing a client, then we may perhaps be able to take steps toward breaking existing ideology. In other words, if someone wants to blast racist or otherwise bigoted views on their social network site of choice, it may make it easier to know whom to fire to employ better humans. On the other, the risk is always there that personal opinions will be attributed to employers.

  3. Ning Huang

    I appreciate the third point: consisitency. Without stable and clear rules for journalists about their use of social media, they would be confused and not perform appropriately sometime. That’s also something very important for my country.

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