Stop Using Twitter! Washington Post Journalists Told To Ignore Popular Social Hub

Filed as News on October 21, 2010 3:02 am

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Washington Post journalists have been told by the company to back away from Post-branded and personal Twitter accounts when it comes to speaking on behalf of the organization.

The memo came after the paper post a controversial article titled: Christian compassion requires the truth about harms of sexuality.”

The article was published after several gay teens were bullied and eventually committed suicide. The article argued that the issue was one of mental health, basically stating that homosexuality was a mental illness. The proclamation of mental illness led to GLAAD complaining about the piece, which led to Washington Post employees defending the piece since it provided “both sides” of the story. As expect GLAAD took to Twitter stating that their are not “two sides” to the issue, which led to more bickering from Post employees.

After all was said and done Post Managing Editor Raju Narisett sent the following memo to his employees:

This week, some Post staffers responded to outside critics via our main
Twitter account. At issue was a controversial piece we’d published online. The intent in replying was to defend the decision to publish the piece, but it was misguided both in describing our rationale for publishing the piece and as a matter of practice. It shouldn’t have been sent.

Even as we encourage everyone in the newsroom to embrace social media and relevant tools, it is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post branded accounts is to use them as a platform to promote news, bring in user generated content and increase audience engagement with Post content. No branded Post accounts should be used to answer critics and speak on behalf of the Post, just as you should follow our normal journalistic guidelines in not using your personal social media accounts to speak on behalf of the Post.

Perhaps it would be useful to think of the issue this way: when we write a story, our readers are free to respond and we provide them a venue to do so. We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor–and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It’s something we don’t do. Please feel free to flag Marcus, Liz and me when you see something out there that you think deserves a response from the Post. As we routinely do, we will work with Kris Coratti and her team to respond when appropriate.

While the Post has obviously tried to minimize the effects Tweets can have on their business model, it’s foolish for the company to completely destroy their social media community building efforts. As a site owner, I’m vastly aware of the consequences that not engaging with readers can have in this day and age and to simply walk away from a debate shows the type of closed off isolated attitude that has caused traditional media to lose much of their reader base. The lack of Twitter and other social media efforts not only stops all-important user engagement, it also distances reporters from their audience and if you can’t build a following that shares your ideals or wants to force you to confront your own biases, you are left with a bored audience who will gravitate towards individuals who they can speak to and debate their own ideas with.

What do you think about this Twitter isolation? I personally don’t like sources I can’t engage with and a simple comment on-site isn’t always enough to open up a nice level of dialogue with a website, especially when they can control whether or not my comments even appear on their website.

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