I have all kinds of things to say on Twitter, which I consider to be a cool and compelling form of communication with the wider world.
Even before The Washington Post put out guidelines for its staff on using social media, I followed some rough rules of my own. These would include:
a) Don't say something that makes you look like a blithering idiot.
b) Don't appear to be in the pocket of Democrats or Republicans (or birthers or truthers).
c) Stick to subjects on which you actually have a clue.
d) Refrain from boring people with the minutiae of your daily life.
e) Don't say anything you couldn't defend as fair analysis in print or on the air.
Now the blabosphere is in a bit of a tizzy over The Post's guidelines. (I responded by saying that henceforth I would tweet only about the weather and dessert recipes. That was a bit of attempted humor.)
Some excerpts: "When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. . . .
"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."
Not to put a damper on a great fuss, but I think this is entirely reasonable. I don't see it as a corporate attempt to crush creativity and sap the soul. People follow journalists on Twitter and Facebook because they're interested in what the person writes, blogs or says on television. We can't pretend we're random people who can just pop off at will.
No one is saying we can't engage on these sites, or that some Post editor has to provide tweet-by-tweet approval.
I think there's plenty of running room to be insightful and entertaining -- within the confines of 140 characters -- and engage in dialogue with people who care about politics and journalism. You can spout off about the Redskins (if you're not a sportswriter) but need to tread more carefully on Afghanistan and health care (unless you're a commentator). That doesn't mean you can't point out absurdities and outrages or plug into what folks on the left and right are saying. It all comes down to using a bit of common sense.
A different view from Stephen Baker, whose magazine, Business Week, is up for sale and may or may not survive:
"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. . . .
"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."
David Carr blogs for the NYT:
"We've all written tweets that we either regretted or wish we could take back, but the ease of use lends itself to impulse speech -- which is part of what makes Twitter interesting in the first place no matter who is at the keyboard. The Wall Street Journal set the bar pretty high for its gang, suggesting: '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.' The New York Times has had a few brushes with Twitter's asymmetries, but made it through by appealing to common courtesy and common sense, with no edicts attached.
"Which makes sense, when you think about. Mainstream outlets who gag social media efforts are unilaterally disarming in the ongoing war for reader attention. Reporters and editors would all like to mouth off at will and transgress as we wish, but our online identities are inexorably wrapped up with our professional ones. Every time a reporter hits send, he or she might do the following exercise: How would I feel if my mother and/or my boss read this? Because they well might, along with the legions of folks who sit, like crows on a wire, looking for any wiggle or wobble from media outlets they regard with suspicion in the first place.