Journalists: Practice Safe Social Media

Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Twitter. Facebook. Linked In.

If you're a writer, you should be using social media platforms to promote your work.

The same is true for journalists and non-fiction authors. These social media outlets allow writers from all genres and platforms to promote articles and publications, connect with readers, and find sources.

But journalists may want to reconsider simply retweeting a message.

Early this month, The Associated Press issued revised social media guidelines for journalists employed by the wire service. Included is a new section covering retweeting messages without context.

After reading the new guidelines, I started thinking about what types of tweets I retweet and how it could affect my freelance career. I primarily write for a regional newspaper (sometimes my articles go out on the wire service but I am NOT an AP employee), a regional sports website, and WOW! Women on Writing.

Is it possible that something I retweet could push away a potential employer? Is there a chance that a retweet could be taken as an endorsement, especially if I don't clarify my view by simply hitting the retweet icon?

Using the first two publications I generally write for as examples, I thought of several times when a tweet - or even a retweet - did or could potentially cause problems.

In September, I covered a meeting about a controversial pipeline project slated to cut through the Nebraska Sandhills that has stirred an international debate. During the meeting, I sent several tweets highlighting key points from each speaker. I also prefaced the first tweet by saying I was reporting live from the event. About half-way through the two-hour meeting, I began receiving replies from supporters of the project, complaining that I should not be tweeting from the meeting.

Why not? I wasn't offering my opinion. I was relaying information directly from the presenters, the same information that would appear in my newspaper article.

I also write for a regional sports website and am Twitter friends with several of the athletes of the team we cover. Occasionally, I'll retweet an athlete's messages. Why? Because it contains pertinent information or because it's from the athlete's point of view and the typical fan-in-the-stands may not understand the complexity of the sport and its competitions.

Could a retweet cause repercussions? It's possible.

It's an interesting dynamic for those of us who write for the daily presses and online publications, and it's not limited to reporters hired by the AP.

Their rules of social media engagement are practical for any writer, whether a novice stringer trying to break into a publication or the seasoned writer who has built a brand around a book series or newspaper career.

Since the guidelines came out three weeks ago, I have paid more attention to my own Twitter messages and Facebook posts, as well as to what I choose to retweet.

While a fine line exists between personal and professional posts, all writers should take all precautions to keep their writing reputation - in addition to the outlets they write for - safe from unexpected backlash.

And you can retweet me as saying that.

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work, including her weekly newspaper column, at her website.


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