The New York Times: Five guiding principles of social media

The New York Times takes a common sense guide to social media policyThere has been an awful lot written about social media guides for journalists. Some good and some not so good.

This ranges from Sky News going anti social media earlier this year, and taking an approach similar to the one taken by the Associated Press took late last year when it has released new social media guidelines, to the tips and guidelines from the likes of The Guardianthe BBC and the Journalism Foundation among others. The New York Times, however, has a different approach.

It’s interesting to read that while many organisations have spent many long hours writing and publishing their social media policies leading some, like Sky News and AP to chart narrow courses, the New York Times has gone in the other direction.

It has no formal social media policy and that’s more than worthy of note as it is one of the organisations that has done social media very well.

You could say it has zigged while others have zagged and achieved a great deal with social media in the process. It has racked up a huge Twitter following of more than 5.5 million and 2.2 million on Facebook and done that all without having written any rules down or been prescriptive in how its staff use social media.

It has, of course, done this while putting up a paywall, which it emphasised from the start would be open to social media when it said that Social media was the strength of NY Times and not its weakness.

Phil Corbett, The New York Times associate managing editor told Poynter why social media is talked about a lot it had “not done a very formal, detailed written policy”.  Its approach boils down to an eminently sensible one of common sense that can be distilled into these five guiding principles:

1. Encourage our journalists to embrace social media, use it as a tool and be comfortable with it.

2. Social media is free and journalists must be in their use of it. You can not encourage journalists on one hand and then overly restrict them with rules and regulations on the other.

3. Have experts on board who are there to guide and talk to staff and help new recruits as they get to grips with social.

4. Be thoughtful. Use common sense. Social media is public and not private.

5. As a journalist your reputation is on the line as well as that of your organisation. Respect both.

“We have not done a very formal, detailed written policy. We’ve talked about it, but up until now we’ve made a conscious decision not to do that. Partly because we’ve really been encouraging our journalists over the past couple of years to embrace social media, to use it as a tool, to get comfortable with it.

“We think it’s really important for them to do that, and we’ve been concerned that if on the one hand you tell all your reporters and editors “Social media is great, you really should be experimenting and getting the benefit of this great tool,” but on the other hand, “Here’s 27 rules that you better not violate or you’re going to be in big trouble” — that’s not necessarily the most effective way to encourage your journalists. …

“We do talk about it a lot. I talk to new people who come on board, and to reporters and editors who are getting more deeply into social media. We have social media editors and producers who are available to work with our journalists to help them and to give them advice and guidance. … But in general our message is that people should be thoughtful…” Corbett told Poynter.