Karen Magnuson (@kmagnuson) is editor and vice president of news at the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, New York. This Q&A with her appears in Chapter 7, Social Media Ethics and Policies.
Tells us about the Democrat & Chronicle’s social media policy.
The policy was established by Gannett, our owner, and is used in all Gannett newsrooms, including USA TODAY. Journalists in our newsroom read and sign the policy every year. There are pages and pages of suggestions as well as red flags about online behavior that shouldn’t be a surprise to journalists. As long as I have been with Gannett, since 1999, they’ve had a strict ethics policy. I serve on a committee, formed for the USA TODAY Network, that’s revisiting the ethics policy to make sure it’s as up-to-date as possible given the changes in technology. (The USA TODAY Network includes Gannett’s national and local news outlets.)
What are the biggest issues you’ve seen related to journalists’ use of social media?
Journalists who feel strongly about issues, such as one presidential candidate or another. Some have a difficult time refraining from what comes naturally as a human—sharing their thoughts. We’ve reminded people consistently that you’re a representative of the Democrat & Chronicle, and you cannot share your opinion publically. When it comes to something that stirs emotion, journalists should know innately that they should not express how they feel. It’s very obvious that it’s a bad thing to do, but sometimes even the most veterans journalists can get sucked into something that they care deeply about.
On another note, one of the greatest challenges is that journalists are now easily accessible. I myself probably get about 500 e-mails a day. I’m also accessible via Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook. So, I have people coming to me all the time with story ideas, news releases, and, yes, complaints. I can’t respond to it all, even if I work nonstop. One of the expectations for all of our reporters and other staff members is audience engagement. So, time management and being able to adequately prioritize and try to respond to as many people as possible is critical.
Do you recommend separate accounts for professional and personal use?
We leave it up to the individual. Some feel strongly that they want professional pages so that their professional exchanges are off personal pages. In addition, a lot of times those are folks who have kids. They don’t want the public to have access to that kind of information. For me, I don’t have two separate accounts for any of my social media. Who I am is who I am. I can’t see that anything I put out there is going to cause any problem. By the public seeing who I am personally, it lets them know I’m an individual who really cares about this community and has a life outside of work.
How do you approach verification of user-generated content?
We don’t publish anything we can’t verify. We get beat by TV on visuals quite a bit because we refuse to simply grab off Facebook or another platform without permission. We’re very conservative when it comes to that. There’s a lot of pressure to be competitive. But, we verify everything. In terms of submitted photos, our editors do the same thing. We want to make sure it’s real and we have permission to use the visual.
Each chapter of the book includes a From the Newsroom section that features perspectives and insights from journalists.
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