- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2010

Broadcasters who might be seduced by the freewheeling world of Tweets, blogs and online socializing have gotten a clear signal from their control tower.

“Twitter’s character limits and immediacy are not excuses for inaccuracy and unfairness,” notes a new set of stringent guidelines issued Wednesday by the 3,000-member Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), the world’s largest professional organization for news directors, correspondents and others who work in broadcast and assorted electronic news delivery platforms.

“Social media and blogs are important elements of journalism. They narrow the distance between journalists and the public. They encourage lively, immediate and spirited discussion. They can be vital news-gathering and news-delivery tools,” the guidelines say.

But look out.

“As a journalist you should uphold the same professional and ethical standards of fairness, accuracy, truthfulness, transparency and independence when using social media as you do on air and on all digital news platforms,” RTDNA cautions.

“These guidelines will be instantly valuable in just about every newsroom across the country,” said Stacey Woelfel, the group’s chairman. “I can guarantee that anyone reading the new guidelines has already dealt with at least one of these issues.”

The sheer novelty of social media has captivated many journalists, who eagerly maintain their own personal Twitter and Facebook accounts and monitor the sites of newsmakers such as former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin who regularly break news or make major announcements on Facebook or Twitter. The format is ripe for special electronic “apps” to enhance the experience; it also has yielded eyewitness content from natural disasters or other emergencies.

But the immediacy of blogging and social media requires caution and newfound discipline.

Indeed, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos set a precedent when he conducted the first “live Twitterview” with Sen. John McCain last March, trading 140-character missives with the Arizona Republican and yielding real news.

“Twitter’s fun. The concision it demands is both a blessing and a curse. You gain directness. You lose a bit of subtlety and comprehension,” Mr. Stephanopoulos told The Washington Times in the aftermath.

News organizations and interest groups from National Public Radio to The Washington Post and the Society of Professional Journalists have already issued guidelines for journalists to shore up their prudence.

But the practice is here to stay. “Twitter” is among more than 60 new entries in the Associated Press Stylebook.

The RTDNA guidelines, meanwhile, caution broadcasters to take their online craft as seriously as their on-air work, lest they risk lawsuits, conflicts of interest and other ethical breaches.

“You are responsible for everything you say,” said the guide, which is posted at www.rtdna.org.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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