Yesterday Rupert Murdoch “de-friended” me on Facebook and “unfollowed” me on Twitter. I am deeply hurt.
Well, not exactly. As far as I know, Mr. Murdoch, the CEO of News Corp. and owner of Dow Jones & Co., The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, isn’t active on Facebook or Twitter at all. But he is apparently concerned about his employees who are.
In an internal company memo to employees, Wall Street Journal Deputy Managing Editor Alix Freedman cautioned reporters who work at The Wall Street Journal, Marketwatch and Dow Jones Newswires about using social media to engage with sources and readers. The memo was published Tuesday by Editor & Publisher. (I’ve included it in its entirety below.)
OK, on the face of it, that sounds reasonable until you read the rules. They’re either really restrictive or are pretty patronizing. In most cases, the new rules forbid behavior which shouldn’t have to be spelled out to any professional, especially a journalist.
To me this restrictive approach seems extremely short-sighted, especially when reporters are leveraging social media to uncover and report news stories. With this new policy, the management team sent a strong hint to employees active in social media to rethink their involvement. As as result, I wouldn’t be surprised if some reporter friends decide to end their online relationships with me and other PR professionals so they can avoid criticism from management. So in that sense, Mr. Murdoch didn’t “de-friend” me, but his sent a signal to his employees that perhaps they should consider doing so.
In comparison, at Sprint, our policy on employee online activity is pretty forward-thinking. Sprint employees can identify themselves as working for Sprint on blogs, discussion forums and social networks which they participate in, but they need to be sure they convey that the opinions they are expressing are seen as personal ones, not the opinions of Sprint. (That’s the case of this blog and this post, by the way.)
We also ask employees to use good judgment in how they behave online. Our thinking behind this is that it’s unrealistic to expect employees to abide by more restrictive rules like those adopted by Mr. Murdoch’s companies. By adopting a policy which isn’t focused on a long list of “shalt nots”, but instead appeals to employees’ good judgment and calls upon them to specifically own their comments as personal ones, Sprint has been well served, in my view. (I can count on one hand the number of times where this policy has been violated and Sprint’s reputation was impacted negatively.)
But back to Rupert Murdoch and his rules of online behavior. Given the tone of this email and its content, I’m left with the impression that Mr. Murdoch runs a communications company that doesn’t have much trust in the common sense or professionalism of its employees to communicate with readers, viewers or sources in an ethical or appropriate manner. That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?
In my view, if he would adopt a more progressive policy, he would see his employees extend the brands of his company online in very powerful ways. As his audience is moving online, it’s seems odd that he would discourage his reporters from doing the same thing.
Incidently, I emailed the Editor & Publisher news item with the memo to five reporters I work with at Marketwatch, Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal — with one exception, they all had gotten this news from me first. (Maybe Mr. Murdoch needs to rethink his employee communications tactics and strategy, too.)
At any rate, here are Murdoch’s rules for his reporters. Let me know what you think.
The use of social and business networking sites by reporters and editors of the Journal, Newswires and MarketWatch is becoming more commonplace. These ground rules should guide all news employees’ actions online, whether on Dow Jones sites or in social-networking, e-mail, personal blogs, or other sites outside Dow Jones.
* Never misrepresent yourself using a false name when you’re acting on behalf of your Dow Jones publication or service. When soliciting information from readers and interview subjects you must identify yourself as a reporter for the Journal, Newswires or MarketWatch and be tonally neutral in your questions.
* Base all comments posted in your role as a Dow Jones employee in the facts, drawing from and citing your reporting when appropriate. Sharing your personal opinions, as well as expressing partisan political views, whether on Dow Jones sites or on the larger Web, could open us to criticism that we have biases and could make a reporter ineligible to cover topics in the future for Dow Jones.
* Don’t recruit friends or family to promote or defend your work.
* Consult your editor before “connecting” to or “friending” any reporting contacts who may need to be treated as confidential sources. Openly “friending” sources is akin to publicly publishing your Rolodex.
* Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.
* Don’t discuss articles that haven’t been published, meetings you’ve attended or plan to attend with staff or sources, or interviews that you’ve conducted.
* Don’t disparage the work of colleagues or competitors or aggressively promote your coverage.
* Don’t engage in any impolite dialogue with those who may challenge your work — no matter how rude or provocative they may seem.
* Avoid giving highly-tailored, specific advice to any individual on Dow Jones sites. Phrases such as “Travel agents are saying the best deals are X and Y…” are acceptable while counseling a reader “You should choose X…” is not. Giving generalized advice is the best approach.
* All postings on Dow Jones sites that may be controversial or that deal with sensitive subjects need to be cleared with your editor before posting.
* Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter. Common sense should prevail, but if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a Tweet or posting, discuss it with your editor before sending.
Generally, outside activities performed on news employees’ own time are fine, provided that they are consistent with the Code of Conduct, conform to the more specific criteria discussed below and don’t become so time-consuming that they compromise the employee’s performance. No outside activities are allowed that would aid a competitor to Dow Jones, or pose a risk to our news properties, such as by hurting their reputations, exploiting their names, or diminishing our journalists’ access to news sources. Outside activities performed all or partly on the job, or that require a leave of absence, may be done only with the approval of the managing editor. A proposed activity will be viewed more favorably if it:
* Complies with the criteria for personal-time activities listed above and the more specific points laid out below;
* Promises to benefit our news properties enough to offset, at least partly, the lost time of the staffer involved. These benefits may include bringing credit to the Journal, Newswires or MarketWatch and rewarding staffers for their sustained contributions; and
* Is endorsed by the staff member’s supervisor.
What follows is a discussion of the principal categories of outside activities for news employees of the Journal, Newswires and MarketWatch:
News employees shouldn’t undertake freelance writing either for publications that compete substantially with any Dow Jones news properties, or on a topic of core interest to readers of our news properties. Any ideas or story topics generated while reporting for Dow Jones are the property of Dow Jones. Similarly, any articles reported for our publications but ultimately not published are also the property of Dow Jones. Before shopping any such ideas or articles to any other publications, news personnel must obtain the approval of the managing editor (ME), the deputy managing editor in charge of ethics (DME-Ethics) or their designated senior editor. Anyone writing a freelance piece who wishes to be identified by their Dow Jones affiliation must also get the consent of the ME, the DME-Ethics, or the appointed senior editor as is similarly provided for in the IAPE contract.
News personnel must receive permission from their editor before accepting a speaking engagement. No honorariums or payments to the speaker may be accepted. All associated travel and lodging costs must be paid for by the Journal, Newswires or MarketWatch.
Television and Radio Appearances
We encourage television and radio appearances by news personnel of the Journal, Newswires and MarketWatch. However, supervisors still need to approve appearances by individual reporters and editors, and will do so based upon a number of factors, including:
* Whether the person is sufficiently experienced and knowledgeable about the anticipated subjects to reflect creditably on Dow Jones;
* Whether the person will be called on to pose questions and report information, or whether the program format calls for the person to interpret news or express opinion; and
* Whether the environment of the program – its format, the other participants – is of a sort likely to reflect creditably on Dow Jones.
When in doubt, please consult with the DME-Ethics or the appointed senior editor and the Corporate Communication representative for your publication.
Appearances on the two business networks, Fox Business Network and CNBC, may be restricted by certain contractual agreements. Anyone approached about appearances on CNBC should check with the News Editor for television (Richard Taliaferro) or the Deputy Managing Editor responsible for television (Alan Murray). Anyone approached about appearances on Fox Business Network should check with Shawn Bender or Alan Murray.
The motion picture rights to articles written by news staffers belong to Dow Jones. The company is prepared to entertain offers for those rights from producers or others. News employees may do paid work on motion pictures, provided that work meets the general guidelines for outside activities listed above. Dow Jones has an agent who handles movie negotiations. Anyone who receives an inquiry should direct the contact to the director of books and special projects (Rose Ellen D’Angelo).
To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest with our news coverage, the Journal, Newswires and MarketWatch should generally enter journalism contests only if a majority of the judges in the contest are journalists or academics in journalism positions. Staff members should not enter these contests on their own without prior approval from senior editors.
When awards are offered to staff members without the Journal, Newswires or MarketWatch having formally entered the competitions, staffers should determine whether the judging passes the peer test and then get clearance from the DME-Ethics before accepting the awards or accepting any travel or other expenses involved in the award.
News personnel who are asked to judge a contest should get the permission of the DME-Ethics before agreeing to judge. If travel is required, the sponsoring organization may pick up those costs, subject to the approval of the DME-Ethics.