Now that BusinessWeek is for sale and my future at the magazine is uncertain, I'm cross-posting here more and more of my BW stuff.
The way I see it, BW is the ship my colleagues and I are on. Our blogs
and social networks are skiffs and rowboats we're busy building. Most
of us, I'm betting, will spend the rest of our careers with at least
one foot outside the mother ship--whichever company it may be.
To subordinate our blogs and updates to the editorial dictates of
our employer would work against our interests. It would even undermine
the company, which stands to benefit from hosts of vocal and
free-spirited brand ambassadors in the social Web. Yet the Washington
Post, with its new social media guidelines, is attempting to corral every independent voice in its organization. I'm betting it won't work.
First, I should mention that lots of the points the Post editors
make are on target. Journalists do represent their publication in their
private lives. If a Post reporter were heard delivering a hateful
tirade in a restaurant or screaming obscenities at a ball park, it
would injure the reputation of the newspaper. The same holds true for
journalists' behavior on Facebook or Twitter.
Usually, however, it's not so hard to represent both the company and
personal brand, because they're closely aligned. Most journalists at
the Post, I have no doubt, want to be perceived as intelligent,
open-minded, and fair. That's in the paper's interest, too.
But the Post attempts to keep them from expressing opinions.
Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting
anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as
reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or
favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.
This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending
any person or organization online.
That is a bit much. In today's political environment, expressing concern about global warming, Stowe Boyd notes,
could be used to show bias. Voicing any opinion about Israel or the
Palestinians, sex scandals in the Senate, health insurers, you name it,
would appear to be verboten.
It seems that the Post wants all the good stuff from blogs and
social networks--extension of their brand, traffic to their site--but
without any of the problems that come from losing control. Yet the
power of these social tools grows from the very freedom of expression
that the Post editors are trying to rein in.
With its strictures, the Post also wants to keep its editorial processes veiled.
Personal pages online are no place for the discussion of internal
newsroom issues such as sourcing, reporting of stories, decisions to
publish or not to publish, personnel matters and untoward personal or
professional matters involving our colleagues. The same is true for
opinions or information regarding any business activities of The
Washington Post Company.
I would argue that an openness about their processes would inspire
greater public trust. The fact is, serious operations like the Washington Post put
lots of thought into how they cover stories, and they work much harder
than many in the public give them credit for to be thorough and fair. How
far should reporters go in reporting on internal processes? Trust them
to use their own judgment, and have discussions about it when they
appear to go too far.
If BusinessWeek had rules like the Post's, I'd have been out of a job long ago. I've written in recent months about BW's lengthy editing process. Not everyone liked it. But Executive Editor Ellen Pollock, to her credit, came onto my blog and joined the discussion. I also wrote a fairly critical post
about our parent company, McGraw-Hill. Again, it was a sensitive
subject. It upset some people, and perhaps I crossed a line. But we
talked about it, and I'll try to use my best judgment going forward.
Here at BW it's our judgment, more than a formal list of do's and
don'ts, that guides our behavior outside the magazine. I appreciate
that. (cross-posted on Blogspotting.net)