WaPo Cracks Down On Tweeting Journalists

Earlier this decade, when The New York Times tried to take some content behind a paid wall for its Times Select initiative, the paper started with its own columnists like Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich.

While the Times ultimately abandoned the venture, it's telling that the company thought that consumers would be most likely to pay for opinions, and not the objective news stories.

Yet newspaper companies insist that journalists other than paid columnists shouldn't publicly express their opinions -- ever -- on the theory that readers won't trust news accounts if readers know that the writers have views on the subjects they write about.

For the latest example, just look at the Washington Post. This weekend, the newspaper outlined a new social media policy. The move came in response to Twitter posts by one of the paper's two managing editors, Raju Narisetti.

Narisetti, who had about 90 followers on his now-defunct Twitter account, tweeted posts like: "Sen Byrd (91) in hospital after he falls from 'standing up too quickly.' How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail."

PaidContent has the full Post memo about social networks: "When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment," the memo states. "We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism."

Post media columnist Howard Kurtz responded with the following tweet: "Under new WP guidelines on tweeting, I will now hold forth only on the weather and dessert recipes."

The outdated notion that reporters must refrain from expressing their opinion damages newspapers' credibility a lot more than simply acknowledging the fact that journalists have their own ideas about the topics they cover.

Reporters' opinions obviously affect their analysis of the news. Deciding which experts to call for comment, or which part of a story to highlight is going to be informed by journalists' own thoughts on what's important.

In fact, if journalists didn't assess news through the prism of their own experiences and viewpoints, there wouldn't be a need for anything other than wire service copy.

Despite the Washington Post's latest pronouncement, there doesn't seem to be any empirical evidence to suggest that consumers discount opinionated journalists. If so, what would account for the popularity of columnists like Frank Rich or TV hosts like Rachel Maddow?

When newspapers are struggling for survival, you'd think they'd be more open to experimenting with social media. Allowing reporters and editors to blog and tweet about their opinions might result in some criticism of the paper but might also spark some more interest in it. And that's something that newspapers desperately need these days.

3 comments about "WaPo Cracks Down On Tweeting Journalists".
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  1. Elza Hayen from Catalyst Advertising, September 29, 2009 at 5:32 a.m.

    Very Interesting

  2. Christine Randle from DPR Group, September 29, 2009 at 8:57 a.m.

    Totally agree

  3. Steve Noble from, September 29, 2009 at 8:04 p.m.

    Very thought provoking article. I have done video work for most of the major newspaper websites for several years and have an appreciation of where they're coming from. If I were to go out on a limb however I would agree with your last statement. They need to create some new excitement and do it quickly! Maybe if the Twitter page had some fine print legal disclaimer that this is "the reporter's opinion and does not represent the view of the newspaper and the staff" the newspaper legal team would be happy. Good article! Thanks

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