Journalists who publicly share their political opinions can lose the trust of the public and find themselves without a job. That was the case for a Cleveland television anchor and meteorologist. During the 2016 US Presidential Election, they were fired after tweeting about waiting in line to get tickets to a Hillary Clinton campaign event featuring Jay Z.
In a statement, WEWS-TV news director Jeff Harris wrote: “We remind our journalists frequently to avoid even the appearance of support for any sides of this election.”
The majority of television newsroom policies, according to a study I conducted, prohibit the sharing of opinion on social media. READ: You Can’t Post That! Social Media Policies in Newsrooms.
It’s a thorny issues, explains Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president of news at the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. In a Q&A for my book, Mobile and Social Media Journalism: A Practical Guide, Magnuson talks about the biggest issues 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.
I discuss this topic in an article published by the International Journalists’ Network. READ: How can journalists engage with politics on social media? I offer the following suggestions, which I expand upon in my book.
Apply Traditional Journalistic Standards
When considering sharing personal thoughts on social media, journalists’ decisions should be held to the same standards that have always been at the heart of journalism ethics. Conduct yourself online as you would in any circumstance as a journalist. For example, solid journalists avoid placing political bumper stickers on their cars or political signs in their front yards. Journalists should take the same approach on new media platforms.
Follow A Variety of Political Sources
Recognize that your actions can be misinterpreted, even if you have the best of intentions. Journalists frequently “like” or “follow” the pages of political parties or activist groups as a way to track story ideas from those sources. If you become the fan of one political candidate or party, you should do the same for the other. Become a “fan” of lots of groups, not just those that align with your views.
Treat Retweets as You Would Quotes
When retweeting a post, add a comment to make sure your retweet isn’t interpreted as an endorsement of someone’s opinion or stance. In its social media guidelines, the Associated Press uses these examples to highlight the type of retweets that should be avoided:
RT @jonescampaign: Smith’s policies would destroy our schools.
RT @dailyeuropean: At last, a euro plan that works.
If you want to retweet these posts, introductory text is needed to help clarify that you’re simply reporting someone’s view, just like you would quote a source. The AP recommends this approach:
Jones campaign now denouncing Smith on education. RT @jonescampaign: Smith’s policies would destroy our schools.
Big European paper praises euro plan. RT @dailyeuropean: At last, a euro plan that works.