The Shorthorn’s social media guidelines


Last week, Natalie reviewed expectations for representing yourself as a Shorthorn staffer on social media. To explain the expectations that the Department of Student Publications has for its newsroom employees, I’ve included The Shorthorn’s social media guidelines below. You also have a print copy in your mailbox. I’ll remind you of a few things:

  • Nothing  — nothing — is anonymous or private on the Internet. Don’t post something you’re not ready to own up to posting.
  • It’s tempting to respond to comments that are critical of The Shorthorn, but remember that doing so doesn’t help the credibility of the staffer who responds or The Shorthorn. Shorthorn staffers should not post responses to individuals criticizing The Shorthorn in these forums. The editor in chief represents The Shorthorn on such matters, and she will decide whether it is appropriate to respond. (My two cents: It’s not.)
  • Regardless of whether you are posting as an individual or a Shorthorn staffer doing official business, how you represent yourself on social media does impact how your sources and readers view your credibility. Be professional and courteous, even when you are mad as all get out.

The Shorthorn’s social media guidelines on representing yourself follow. They are broad; if you have questions about how to handle or address specific situations, please ask your editors, Beth or Lloyd.

The Shorthorn’s Social Media Guidelines

The Shorthorn has a simple rule for staffers who use social media: We expect you to be the best version of yourself online.

How you practice that, though, can be tricky. This set of guidelines exists to advise you on how to use social media as a responsible journalist, as suggested by experts in professional media and communication organizations.

Traditional ethics rules still apply online.   
Your profile and presence on social networks represents yourself and The Shorthorn. You are a journalist 24/7, and your representation of yourself as such should be professional without losing your personality. That said:

– A Shorthorn staffer should use his or her own name and photo. Photos should be in good taste. You should never represent yourself as someone you are not.
– If you using your social media account(s) for Shorthorn reporting, identify yourself as a Shorthorn reporter in your profile.
– You must disclose yourself as a Shorthorn staffer to potential sources the same way you would if you were meeting face-to-face or by phone: Include your name, identify yourself as a Shorthorn reporter, and state what you are working on. Transparency is essential. Interviews for use in stories should be conducted in person or by phone.

Assume everything you write online will become public.    
Privacy settings don’t protect you from yourself as much as you’d think – anything you write online can be come public. Don’t post something online you wouldn’t want to run on the front page of your hometown newspaper (or The Shorthorn).

Use social media to engage with readers, but professionally.    
Connecting with people is your job. It is OK to “friend” sources, but do so fairly. For instance, if you cover a student group and decide to follow one member on Twitter, you should follow all of them. Same for covering controversial topics, such as concealed weapons on campus – follow any and all sides to avoid bias.

Respond to people who contact you via social media. If you aren’t the appropriate person to answer their questions, refer them to whoever is. Do not respond to criticism of The Shorthorn; that responsibility is the editor in chief’s.

Beware of perceptions.    
Do not disclose political affiliation on profiles and do not write about your political preferences in updates.

Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.    
If Mom says she loves you on Facebook, check it out. Folks can – and do – hijack accounts routinely. Independently verify any and all information gained using social networking sites using traditional reporting methods.

Keep internal deliberations confidential.    
Have a bone to pick with an editorial decision? Talk with your editor, not your buds online. It’ll get things taken care of sooner and spare yours and The Shorthorn’s reputation. Use social media to praise your co-workers’ work; do not criticize a colleague’s work using social media.

Sources referenced for these guidelines:
American Society of News Editors
Society of Professional Journalists
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Washington Post


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