Common Sense Needed Online For Journalists, Too

Google cache of @rajunarisetti profile
Google cache of @rajunarisetti profile

On Friday, the Washington Post’s ombudsman ran with a blog post outlining the Post’s new set of standards for employees who use social media (like Twitter and Facebook). The peg for the article was the story of managing editor Raju Narisetti, who evidently thought that Twitter is a private forum where only his 90 best friends could read what he had to say, such as:

“We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not. But we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”


“Sen Byrd (91) in hospital after he falls from ‘standing up too quickly.’ How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail.”

The column points out the obvious problems with updates like these:

“In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers. Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition.”

Response? Narisetti has since closed his account (here is a Google cache of what it looked like on Sept. 24, the day before the article).

This whole thing is unfortunate on a couple of levels:

  1. The initial offense: It tends to boggle the mind that an editor at a daily newspaper — which, taken collectively, seem to regard themselves as the last bastion of the fading golden age of Journalism — would decide that it’s OK to put these kinds of snarky opinions in writing. We laugh at interns whose intemperate Facebook photos get them in trouble. This is a little more decorous, but little different.
  2. The over-response: Narisetti had the right idea dipping his toe into the social media water. It’s a good way to connect with readers and thinkers. To pull the plug because his hand got slapped is silly. It suggests that he does not imagine that he can actually issue updates without crossing the line. Why not? People are able to make public statements without getting into trouble all the time.

The Friday story coincided with the release of new social media standards for the Post, and they appear to be mostly common sense. Things like:

What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.

Sounds like good advice, and not too hard to follow.

I hope @rajunarisetti comes back. He’d only Tweeted 145 times, not enough to really get a feel for it. This initial mistake can quickly be put in the rear view mirror.

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