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Be Social, But Don't Get Personal: WaPo Tells Reporters How (Not) to Tweet

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, September 28 2009

Now that everyone has a megaphone, even a teeny one, how will powers-that-be respond when employees post to Twitter or engage on Facebook in a recognizably human way?

One DC institution, the Washington Post, has decided to crack down on social media usage by its staff. They're trying to brush the clay off the line between journalists and the rest of society that has accumulated in recent years. "When using social networking tools for reporting or for our personal lives, we must remember that Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists," read the new guidelines. The directive was issued after Raju Narisetti, one of the Post's editors, tweeted comments after Senator Robert Byrd took a tumble, comments like "How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail." (Narisetti probably didn't help his cause any by archly tweeting while his bosses were considering the policy, “For flagbearers of free speech, some newsroom execs have the weirdest double standards when it comes to censoring personal views.")

Locking your account isn't enough of a prophylactic for the WaPo. Narisetti's Twitter account, it seems, was private and limited to 90 followers, but he's since shut it down anyway.

It's a curiously black-and-white move by the Post. WaPo ombudsperson Andrew Alexander questioned Narisett's Byrd tweet on the grounds that it could be seen as advocating a particular policy position, like one in favor of term-limits or retiring senators once they reach the age of a bajillion years old. Yet it comes at the same time that the digital side of the paper is hiring journalists, like health care blogger-reporter Ezra Klein, who blur the always-fuzzy distinction between opinion and reporting.

Also off limits to Post journalists now, joining any group that could reflect bias, or accepting "virtual gifts" from partisan causes. So keep that Ron Paul button to yourself.

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