The NYTimes Asks Reporters To Stop Being Partisan On Social Media

Days after James O'Keefe released his latest undercover video which took direct aim at the New York Times' Audience Strategy Editor, Nick Dudich, who repeatedly admitted to promoting content that intentionally seeks to, among other things, damage President Trump's businesses as a means towards forcing his resignation, The New York Times became the latest mainstream media organization to “clarify” its social media policy for journalists, reminding them that “partisan” posts (i.e. posts explicitly bashing President Donald Trump) will no longer be tolerated.

America’s paper of record joined the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post in gently reminding its journalists that abiding by stringent standards of the “unbiased” press, while occasionally uncomfortable when reporters are forced to swallow controversial opinions, is necessary to retain what little credibility the media has left in the eyes of the public.

Interestingly, the paper’s public disclosure of its standards – which Executive Editor Dean Baquet said was done “in the interest of transparency” -  comes amid an escalating feud between President Donald Trump and NBC which began after the latter published an anonymously sourced report claiming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron, and has most recently expanded to encompass a debate about whether the FCC should revoke television networks’ operating licenses for biased or unfair coverage.

“We’ve always made clear that newsroom employees should avoid publishing anything on social media that damages our reputation for neutrality and fairness. This memo offers more detailed guidelines.

Department heads will be responsible for ensuring that these guidelines are followed by all staff members in their departments. Violations will be noted on performance review.”

Here’s a summary of the new guidelines:

  • In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.
  • Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively.
  • These guidelines apply to everyone in every department of the newsroom including those not involved in coverage of government and politics.
  • We consider all social media activity by our journalists to come under this policy. While you may think that your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media accounts are private zones, separate from your role at The Times, in fact everything we post or “like” online is to some degree public. And everything we do in public is likely to be associated with The Times.
  • On that same note, we strongly discourage our journalists from making customer service complaints on social media. While you may believe that you have a legitimate gripe, you’ll most likely be given special consideration because of your status as a Times reporter or editor.
  • Avoid joining private and “Secret” groups on Facebook and other platforms that may have a partisan orientation. You should also refrain from registering for partisan events on social media. If you are joining these groups for reporting purposes, please take care in what you post.
  • Always treat others with respect on social media. If a reader questions or criticizes your work or social media post, and you would like to respond, be thoughtful. Do not imply that the person hasn’t carefully read your work.

And the list goes on (you can read it in full here).

  • If a reporter is still unsure about posting, the Times recommends that they first ask themselves:
  • Would you express similar views in an article on The Times platforms?
  • Would someone who reads your post have grounds for believing that you are biased on a particular issue?
  • If readers see your post and notice that you’re a Times journalist, would that affect their view of The Times’s news coverage as fair and impartial?
  • Could your post hamper your colleagues’ ability to effectively do their jobs?
  • If someone were to look at your entire social media feed, including links and retweets, would they have doubts about your ability to cover news events in a fair and impartial way?

We’re glad the Times cleared that up. Its new guidelines can effectively be summarized as “don’t publish anything on twitter that you wouldn’t publish in the Times.” That said, the standard still allows ample room for the paper's reporters to pass off partisan rhetoric as "impartial" fact. That is, if it's enforceed. It's likely many of the paper's reporters will continue tweeting partisan attacks - the default subscriber boosting position - despite the new 'guidelines.'