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Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network plans to hold a civil rights march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. The National March Against Police Violence is expected to draw a large crowd.
It’s been a few years since we issued guidance “on attending marches, rallies and other public events” and there are more than a few folks who have joined NPR since then. So this is a good time to post the guidance again.
Basically, we believe journalists can go see such events, even if they’re not assigned to cover them, so long as they don’t “participate”:
“There is real journalistic value in being an observer at public events such as a march or rally, even without a reporting assignment. But while we may observe, we refrain from actively participating in marches, rallies or public events involving political issues or partisan causes that our organization covers or may cover. Of course, the distinction between being a participant and being an observer can be subtle. But waving a picket sign or joining along in a cheer would be inappropriate. Again, we rely on your good judgment.
“Since the nature of each event differs, it’s wise to discuss these matters ahead of time with supervisors to figure out where ethical pressure points may exist or emerge. If attending such an event as an observer, take care in behavior, comments, attire and physical location not to reflect a participatory role.
“When we cover political or partisan marches, rallies or public events, we should be clearly distinguished as working in a journalistic role – identifying ourselves as NPR journalists to the people we speak with, with our NPR identification on display.”
The question will be asked: “If my job does not touch on NPR’s journalism, can I attend and participate in this or any other ‘political’ march?”
We can’t give an answer that would cover everyone and every eventuality. The best advice is to discuss it beforehand with your supervisor.
We can say that those who are in “outward-facing” positions — jobs that sometimes put them in the position of representing NPR to the outside world — should adhere to the same guidelines that our journalists follow.
Another question sure to come up is about social media. The same guidelines we spelled out before Election Day apply to marches and rallies:
“Keep in mind that what you tweet or post is going to be perceived as coming ‘from’ NPR. … Tweet and retweet [and post] as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.”
(Memmos; Dec. 8, 2014)
As news about the midterm elections comes in Tuesday, many of us are going to be using social media to share updates and pass along interesting bits of information. It’s going to be particularly tempting to post about turnout, about what other news outlets report from exit polls and about the results of key races as they’re “called” by one media outlet or another.
That’s all fine. But please keep in mind that what you tweet or post is going to be perceived as coming “from” NPR.
The first rule of the day is simple. Just as “there’s no cheering in the press box,” it’s not appropriate to cheer (or boo) about election results on social media.
After that, this previously issued guidance applies:
“Tweet and retweet [and post] as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.”
The important context includes making clear what information is coming from NPR and what is from other credible news outlets.
Throughout the evening, our Elections Desk will be following the AP’s lead as races are called — though there may be moments when the desk decides to issue a “stop” order and not follow AP’s decision to declare a winner. Along with NPR.org, of course, the places where NPR-produced reporting will show up include @nprpolitics on Twitter and the NPR Facebook page.
(Memmos; Nov. 3, 2014)
9:50 a.m. ET. AP moves this BULLETIN and tweets it as well:
“Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.”
The key words: “crash lands.”
9:53 a.m. ET. WTOP cuts and pastes that into its own tweet:
“ALERT: Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.”
The station also reads that on the air.
9:59 a.m. ET. AP sends out a fix:
“CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.”
WTOP also “clarifies” online and on the air.
We should always remember that “there but for the grace of God go we.”
We do and will make mistakes. But this is yet another reminder of why it can be so important sometimes to pause — not just before reporting, but also before tweeting and retweeting. (And, in this case, the importance perhaps of looking up at the TV and the live broadcasts of the plane landing?)
Politico’s Dylan Byers calls AP’s bulletin “the most poorly written news alert ever.”
The comments below AP’s original tweet, as you might imagine, include some rather critical remarks.
(Memmos; July 23, 2014)
“If you wouldn’t say it on the air, don’t say it on the Web.”
That’s been the basic guidance for quite a few years.
In reality, Twitter and other social media sites allow us to show more of our personalities than we might on the air or in a blog post.
BUT, though the words may be on “personal” Twitter or Facebook accounts, what we say can reflect on NPR and raise questions about our ability to be objective.
Matt Thompson offers a test. Before posting something about your work or a news event or an issue, even if you’re putting it on what you think of as a personal page, ask this question: “Is it helping my journalism, or is it hurting my journalism?”
“We acknowledge that nothing on the Web is truly private. Even on purely recreational or cultural sites and even if what we’re doing is personal and not identified as coming from someone at NPR, we understand that what we say and do could still reflect on NPR. So we do nothing that could undermine our credibility with the public, damage NPR’s standing as an impartial source of news, or otherwise jeopardize NPR’s reputation. In other words, we don’t behave any differently than we would in any public setting or on an NPR broadcast.”
Also, despite what many say, retweets should be viewed AS endorsements. Again, from the handbook:
“Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.”
(Memmos, July 8, 2014)
Whether in an NPR newscast or a tweet, “you always have to take into consideration what you’re saying, what you know, what you don’t know, and be thoughtful about not making libelous comments whatever the medium.”1
In many cases, a journalist will be legally responsible for any statement he or she repeats, even if the statement is attributed to another source. There are a few exceptions, and one of them is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects news organizations from defamation liability for content that’s created by a third party. Many experts believe this protection would extend to retweets. Citizen Media Law Project co-founder David Ardia put it this way in a Poynter.org story: “So if a journalist or news organization were to retweet a defamatory statement, they would not be held accountable. If, however, they added a defamatory remark as part of the retweet, they could be.”
So, in theory NPR would be protected if someone retweets a post that says something defamatory or inaccurate about someone. But be careful about adding comments that would make the message your own and destroy immunity.
But beyond the legal implications, it is important to consider our listeners and readers and the fact that they trust that the information we’re giving them is as accurate as we can make it. This extends to the information we tweet, retweet, blog, tumble or share in any other way on social media. And that’s why we don’t simply pass along information — even via something as seemingly innocent as a retweet — if we doubt the credibility of the source or news outlet. We push for confirmation. We look for other sources. We reach out to those closer to the story. In other words, we do some reporting.
- Source: NPR’s Ashley Messenger, in an article on Poynter.org. [↩]
Just as we do in the “real” world, we identify ourselves as NPR journalists when we are working online. So, if as part of our work we are posting comments, asking questions, tweeting, retweeting, blogging, Facebooking or doing anything on social media or other online forums, we clearly identify ourselves and that we work for NPR. We do not use pseudonyms when doing such work.
NPR journalists may, in the course of their work, “follow” or “friend” Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and other social media sites created by political parties and advocacy groups. But we do so to monitor their news feeds, not to become participants, and we follow and friend sites created by advocates from all sides of the issues. It’s as basic a tool as signing up to be on mailing lists used to be.
If in their personal lives NPR journalists join online forums and social media sites, they may follow the conventions of those outlets and use screen names that do not identify who they are. But we do not use information gathered from our interactions on such sites in our reports for NPR. If we get ideas for stories, we treat the information just as we would anything we see in the “real world” — as a starting point that needs to be followed by open, honest reporting.
Finally, we acknowledge that nothing on the Web is truly private. Even on purely recreational or cultural sites and even if what we’re doing is personal and not identified as coming from someone at NPR, we understand that what we say and do could still reflect on NPR. So we do nothing that could undermine our credibility with the public, damage NPR’s standing as an impartial source of news, or otherwise jeopardize NPR’s reputation. In other words, we don’t behave any differently than we would in any public setting or on an NPR broadcast.
When determining whether to pass along information being reported on social media sites by other news outlets or individuals, be thoughtful. When we point to what others are saying, in the eyes of many we are effectively reporting that information ourselves. This is true whether the platform is an official NPR social media webpage, a personal blog or a Twitter page that is written by an NPR journalist.
But we also know that reporting about what’s being posted on social media can give our listeners and readers valuable insights into the day’s news.
One key is to be transparent about what we’re doing. We tell readers what has and hasn’t been confirmed. We challenge those putting information out on social media to provide evidence. We raise doubts and ask questions when we have concerns — sometimes “knocking down” rumors circulating on the Web is of enormous value to our readers. And we always ask an important question: am I about to spread a thinly-sourced rumor or am I passing on valuable and credible (even if unverified) information in a transparent manner with appropriate caveats?
Above all, proceed with caution, especially when news is breaking and accounts vary widely about what is happening. Reach out to other sources for confirmation. And the general standard is simple: Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a “traditional” NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or “knocking down,” provide it.