This policy is intended to provide our journalists and social media practitioners with guidelines to enable them to make full use of the enormous journalistic potential of social media.
There is no fundamental difference between online journalism, of which social media is a subset, and traditional journalism. All the same rules and principles apply. Where they differ is in the pressures and form of the outputs. This means that quality can be defined differently on different platforms, but professionalism is judged to the same exacting standards.
This applies whether you are using social media for research, reporting, publishing or interaction with others. But in all instances of your behaviour, both on social media and elsewhere, you are expected to adhere to the Code of Ethics of the Igunundu Press.
The one absolute to keep in mind is that the Igunundu Press’s ( Bayede News) reputation is our most valuable asset, so do nothing to damage the qualities associated with that reputation. These are, inter alia, integrity, credibility, honesty and professionalism.
As a news organisation specialising in investigative reporting, the Igunundu Press relies on our community of readers to help us produce a better product. Social media allows us to talk to our readers on multiple platforms, and opens up new audiences for our content. The network effect means that our core readers disseminate our content to their followers.
On social media platforms, Bayede News reporters can source breaking news and story ideas. We can also break news, as well as use social media to verify news. We can pick authoritative sources from a wide pool, and use our community as a sounding board for ideas and opinions.
For the purposes of this document, “social media” includes Twitter, Facebook, blogging platforms, MXit, forums and commenting functions (such as Disqus), and photo-sharing networks and applications such as Instagram.
SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Be authentic and consider your audience. When sourcing material on social media, include your name and, when appropriate, your company name and your title. Readers consume content from people they know and trust, and pass that content on. Be aware that you are part of a community, and subject to the dynamics of that community.
Do not misrepresent yourself on social media. Be upfront about being from the Bayede News. Do not use subterfuge to obtain information, and do not use underhand technical methods (such as subverting security protocols on websites) to obtain information. Although social media are public platforms, and in general in the public domain, be mindful that some people might not fully understand this. If in any doubt, check with people that they are aware that they are, de facto, commenting in the public domain. In cases where public interest is the overriding factor, the expectation of privacy is not as relevant.
The internet is home to much disinformation and false data. Be very aware of this, and make sure you are thoroughly conversant with your subject and source before accepting the validity of information received online. As with traditional reporting, take notes. Take a screenshot of any page you are using in your research — pages can be removed from sites, and then you have no proof. This is especially important when using information sourced via social media. Take a screenshot of Twitter conversations or social network pages. As these are private accounts, they can be deleted by their owners.
Information on social media is still owned, despite the illusion of a liminal free-for-all. Always attribute your source, be it a person or a platform. Readers ascribe different values to different sources, so they need to know, for example, when something comes from a user on Twitter as opposed to physical investigation.
From time to time, your tweets will be aggregated on to mg.co.za. This means the Bayede News might, in certain circumstances, be legally responsible for what you write. Exercise the same caution, with regards to libel and fairness, as you would on any other of our platforms. This is not just about the law. If you make a comment that is aggressive or nasty, this can taint our reputation, as well as your personal name in the industry.
Online, the distinction between the public and the private is blurred. Inevitably, your private persona will be conflated with your business persona. If the Bayede News feels that your private online persona adversely affects your ability to work in your professional area, we may change the area in which you work, or discipline you if this is deemed necessary.
Also, remember that data can be mined in various ways. You might inadvertently betray a source, or leak an upcoming scoop, by a seemingly unrelated series of tweets or posts that tell a revealing story when parsed together. Be vigilant at all times. You are responsible for what you say on social media. Social media are not lesser media: you are judged by the same standards as what is commonly termed “traditional media”. You are responsible for what you write.
Respect copyrights and fair use. Always give people proper credit for their work, and make sure you have the right to use something with attribution before you publish. This is particularly tricky with retweeting, and editing those retweets for space. If you edit someone’s tweet, mark it as a partial retweet (PRT).
Remember to protect confidential & proprietary info. You are obliged, contractually, to protect the Bayede News ( Igunundu Press) confidential or proprietary information. Employees who share confidential or proprietary information do so at the risk of losing their job and possibly even ending up a defendant in a civil lawsuit. At the very least, companies will seriously question the judgment of an employee who shares confidential or proprietary information via social media.
The bedrock of our authority as a publication is our impartiality. Your profiles, retweets, likes and postings can reveal your political and ideological affiliations. Be very sure that your audience either understands that you are professional enough to put those aside in the workspace, or that those affiliations will not be construed as having an effect on your ability to do objective journalism.
A simple example: If you join a particular Facebook group for research purposes, it would be politic (as well as good research policy) to also join whatever group holds a contrary viewpoint on the same subject.
Exercise good judgment. Your comments will be open to misinterpretation and malicious repostings. Always think before you hit enter. Your comments will be monitored – that’s the nature of social media – and will be passed on to your employer. As our reputation is predicated on dealing with controversial subjects, this will always be a contested area. We have to take a standpoint, but be aware that your standpoint has to be defensible according to the Code of Ethics of the Igunundu Press.
As with our other publications, our social media are judged on the value we provide to the user. Do not imagine that social media consumers have a less rigid idea of what they want from our publication. The product might be different (shorter, looser tone, etc), but they are still judging by our usual standards.
The separation of the private and the professional
If you have a private social media account (Facebook, Twitter and the like), you are advised to declare your professional affiliation, and include the following disclaimer:
“The views expressed here are strictly personal, and do not represent the views of my employer, the Igunundu Press / Bayede News.”
Be aware that people will still elide the two, so make sure you say nothing that will damage the Igunundu Press / Bayede News Mail name.
Should you break stories on social media? The general rule is, if you don’t do it, someone else will. You don’t want to scoop our other relevant platforms, but social media platforms are as important in terms of building a news reputation. Where possible, we would prefer to break news with a link to a solid piece of content on our other platforms, but there will be many occasions where you’ll have to preempt our newsdesks. If possible, check with a senior editor on the wisdom of your decision. Generally, the ideal would be that someone checks your social media update before you post it. This will seldom be possible, but make it happen if you are in any doubt.
There’s a delicate balance between whetting our audience’s appetite with teasers about work in progress, and handing a competitive advantage to other news organisations. Here, there are no guidelines possible except those of your professional acumen and common sense. In principle, the Igunundu Press is committed to as transparent a news agenda as is possible within the constraints of business sense.