Sky News goes anti-social media with bans on retweeting others
The Twittersphere lit up last night as it was reported that Sky News was introducing a new social media policy that bans its journalists from retweeting non-Sky sources. Essentially the broadcaster that has done so much to establish its reputation in social news is taking an anti-social media approach.
Staff were informed of the new social media policy in an email that told staff not to “re-tweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter”.
Retweeting others is something that many journalists do and it ensures that, to put it simply, that the media and the news that it shares stays social.
Here’s what the email seen by the Guardian says:
“So, to reiterate, don’t tweet when it is not a story to which you have been assigned or a beat which you work.
“Where a story has been tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff.
“Do not retweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter. Such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process.”
You can see where the new policy is coming from. It has happened various times on Twitter particularly when big stories like the death of Colonel Gaddafi break, where he was alive and dead at the same time, and there is confusion as unsubstantiated messages are widely retweeted on Twitter without any verification.
The new Sky approach is similar in tone to the one that the Associated Press took late last year when it has released new social media guidelines on how staffers should handle re-tweets (tips/guidelines from the Guardian and the BBC are also worth checking). Basically for the AP it comes down to not retweeting anything with an opinion ensuring that it had distance between it and any controversial opinion. Sky News has gone further in putting an end to retweets entirely.
The new Sky News policy is also designed to ensure that the broadcaster is talking in a joined up fashion and that what reporters are saying on Twitter is the same as what is being said on TV.
While I’m sure most of it is fine some of it comes across as being anti-social media in that it locks Sky News journalists into a narrow defined set of social media behaviour.
Sky News also wants to ensure that the Twitter accounts of its staff stay very business like and that they do not use their work accounts for tweeting non work related tweets.
Okay again you can see why they are doing that. They don’t want anyone damaging the brand with a careless personal tweet that might offer an opinion that might cause offense or controversy.
But what it does is effectively dehumanise the Twitter accounts of its reporters and turn them more into tweeting news machines.
Most people following journalists want them to tweet news, but sharing occasional items of non work related tweets is what makes Twitter a great mix as it adds the human element.
The FT’s Ben Fenton quoted one unnamed Sky News journalists saying that the “ban on retweeting is probably the only part of the policy that has got people upset. But if you are someone like Neal [@fieldprodcuer] it’s a key part of what you do”.
The source also asked how could Sky News reporters now expect other journalists to retweet their stories in the knowledge that the favour will never be returned in kind.
For Sky News it damages the reputation it has built up in how it delivers news socially.
It was the first news organisation to have a dedicated Twitter correspondent in Ruth Barnett back in 2009.
It also won praise for how it covered the Arab Spring and the riots in London and other parts of the UK. Its use of blogs as well has given its reporters an extra avenue and helps drive traffic to its engaging website.
While many were decrying the news rules Ewan Spence writing on Forbes took a different view. He said he was all for the new rules:
“I’m all for the rules by the way. For a start, it’s Sky’s house, and they can apply the rules in whatever way they want. But it’s also incredibly practical. Stories can burn round the web far faster than the time it takes to double source a story and there are far too many instances of one incorrect tweet getting out of hand and appearing on every news site scrambling to be “first, the recent case around the reporting of Joe Paterno being the obvious one.
“It might be a bit trickier when it comes to the personal accounts of Sky News staff, but is a broadcast on Twitter any different to appearing as a pundit on a news program or passing commentary on a radio interview. Both of those would need to be cleared before an employee could appear. Given the magnifying power of Twitter, this move makes perfect sense, especially in the cut throat UK news industry.”
I beg to differ. All of this is a sad and unfortunate turn. It is anti social and whilst I completely understand news organisation wanting to remain professional at all times they also have to adapt.
Sky News has gone overboard and been too stringent in the rules it has drawn up. The irony is that the people likely to benefit from this move are rivals like ITV and BBC News who have no such draconian social rules in place.
The losers, however, are the rest of us who follow many of these reporters and have up until now enjoyed the variety of their tweets. Looks like the variety pack has had its day.
It will be interesting to see what happens. Some Sky News reporters are carrying on regardless and are today retweeting others. Will be an interesting one to watch. Maybe this misugided policy will end up in the trash.