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Is it possible to have News Neutrality with Social Media?

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The following is my opinion only and not the representation of Saintel Daily, LLC.

Social media is the way that we get our news today.  Or at least that’s the way most of us get our news.  But we have to be careful, as do journalists.  Sometimes they use platforms like Facebook or Twitter to share their own opinions.  From time to time, they say something that can be taken out of context and this could have major implications for the publications that they work for.  If they don’t agree with you, that can prevent them from reading the publication that you work for.  They may assume that your entire newsroom is biased.  Which is what is causing publications to change their social media strategies.

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Last week, The New York Times published an updated and expanded set of social media guidelines for its journalists.  These new rules outline how every staff member (not just editors and reporters) are expected to behave online.  While the measures seem fair (in that they don’t want you to swing too far one way from a political perspective), is it fair to the employees themselves?  Being a journalist is their job, so why can’t they express their opinions outside of their job?

Here are some of the key points.

  • In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.
  • These guidelines apply to everyone in every department of the newsroom, including those not involved in coverage of government and politics.

Peter Baker, a journalist for the Times had this to say:

“It’s important to remember that tweets about President Trump by our reporters and editors are taken as a statement from The New York Times as an institution, even if posted by those who do not cover him. The White House doesn’t make a distinction. In this charged environment, we all need to be in this together.”

I understand where they’re coming from with this one, but like I said earlier – is this fair?  Is this playing into what Trump wants?  If a journalist tweets something about the president, it’s automatically assumed that it’s the publication making that statement.  But in today’s world, we have these different platforms for engagement.  Think about how we received our news before social media. There was no way to voice your opinion other than through your writing, which was on behalf of the publication.  Now we can have our voices heard.  But apparently, some people can’t separate where someone works with their own opinions.  Jemelle Hill is a great example of this.

This makes me mad to some extent.  Anyone can say whatever they want, but if they have a large social media following, the president is going to find some way to trash it.  And then large publications like The New York Times are going to have to put guidelines in place to ensure that people know it’s their journalists saying it and not them.  Or not saying it now because it’s being shut down.  It’s also not a secret that the president has been constantly bashing The New York Times.  But he’s been saying that most news outlets are producing fake news.  So where do we draw the line?  And is Donald Trump winning this battle?  I certainly think so simply, based on this recent move by the Times.  Which makes me wonder – could this be a step towards censorship?

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