Posted by: mobrienweiss | January 22, 2013

Employers, social media & ‘shaky legal ground’


  1. Speaking about the issue as it relates to journalists themselves, I think the difficulty in setting guidelines ahead of time lies in striking a balance between having clear restrictions to which journalists can adhere and having trust in employees not to write anything brazenly critical about their news organizations. The role of an ombudsman at a newspaper, which is critical in maintaining an uncensored, historical record of a new org’s coverage, is to praise and/or criticize its goings-on as he or she sees fit. Media critics play a similarly important role as a third-party analyst of the quality of news content. For reporters, though, whose job is primarily to seek news and report it, disparaging an employer is not inherently good for anyone.

    Even sensible, warranted criticism from a journalist of his or her own new org runs the risk of coming across as disgruntled ranting or veiled score-settling, and doesn’t necessarily enhance anyone’s knowledge of news events or healthy skepticism of coverage. Maybe if a case about that were to be made, without necessarily instituting a specific policy about it, legal messiness could be avoided.

    At my student newspaper, we have sort of “rule of thumb” that we don’t badmouth the paper or any of its editors, nor do we attempt to speak for the editorial board, on social media. A policy, per se, might not be necessary, but a general understanding of common sense and mutual respect goes a long way.

    Will that stop anyone from making themselves and their fellow reporters look bad at some point in the future? It seems like you can never quite be sure. But reporters might do well to think hard about what and whom their readers want them to criticize in the first place.

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