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Social Media Guidelines for Student Journalists

Social Media Guidelines

The Cronkite School encourages students to use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which are valuable reporting tools and promotional and distribution channels for content. To ensure the highest journalistic standards, students in Cronkite News must abide by the following standards for social media use, which reflect the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics core principles

Individual Cronkite courses also may require students to adhere to these social media standards and practices.

Act Independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. Actions that call into question a journalist’s ability to report fairly on an issue harm not only that journalist but his or her news organization and fellow journalists. 

  • Recognize that your actions involving social networking sites, including those taken when you aren’t working, affect the credibility of yourself, the Cronkite School and its professional programs, Arizona PBS, Arizona State University and other journalists.

  • Avoid posting information to social networking sites or blogs that could call into question your ability to act independently as a journalist. This includes expressing political views, sports fandom or opinions about newsmakers or sharing internal communications, even if you are participating in what is supposed to be a private group. Recognize that even hashtags can imply support and take care to avoid those instances.

  • Refrain from posting information to social networking sites or blogs that could discredit you, the Cronkite School or its professional programs. Avoid creating or sharing posts, images or quotes that contain nudity or sexualized content, recreational alcohol and drug use and other content that could be considered inappropriate. In profiles and in use of privacy settings, restrict access to any information that could be interpreted as conveying a bias. It’s important that no matter what information you post or how private you attempt to make it you refrain from expressing any political or ideological points of view that could compromise your independence as a journalist. Understand that you are responsible for everything you post, whether it is public, private or in a direct message.

  • Recognize that affiliations and sponsorships jeopardize your independence and could affect your assignments. Notify faculty immediately if you receive money, gifts or sponsorship for creating or sharing social media or site content, or if you or a family member/s have worked or volunteered for companies, organizations or people you may cover. Faculty may prohibit journalists from covering stories that benefit or include family members, friends or sources with whom the journalist has a personal or financial relationship.

  • Aggressively manage “friends” and followers and their comments. Delete or hide comments that call into question your ability to act independently as a journalist and, if necessary, remove “friends” or followers who make such comments.

Be Accountable and Transparent

Journalists should take responsibility for their work, including their social media presence and messaging. Acknowledging errors in a timely manner, responding to questions and encouraging discourse about news and media are important elements of journalists’ social media activity.

  • Recognize that a post you intend as humorous or ironic may not be perceived that way. Be mindful that tone and sarcasm don’t easily translate online and don’t post content that can be easily misinterpreted or considered insensitive or offensive.

  • Recognize that actions taken for journalistic reasons can be misinterpreted, such as signing on as a “fan” of a political campaign or interest group in order to follow updates. When appropriate, tell the group that you have signed on to look for story ideas or to understand issues or points of view. If identifying yourself as a follower of a campaign, interest group or political party, seek to follow sites of the other candidate/s or other political parties or groups on the other side of the issue.

Seek Truth and Report It

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Social media helps journalists find sources, engage audiences and develop story ideas as well as make personal and professional connections. 

  • Recognize that use of social networking sites is just one way of gathering information. It is no substitute for face-to-face interviews and other research methods.

  • Work offline to confirm information gathered via social networking sites. Seek through every means possible to interview sources in person or by phone to verify identities, claims and statements.

  • Be transparent with your instructors, supervisors, editors and audience when using information drawn exclusively from a social networking site or messaging through a social networking site. Let them know how and in what context you contacted sources and gathered information and how you verified that information or sought to verify it.

  • Compensate for the younger, whiter and more affluent skew of users of social networking sites. Seeking diversity is an ethical principle as well as a journalistic goal, and social networking sites used exclusively or predominantly as a way to report news can limit the inclusion of diverse views.

Minimize Harm

Journalists should treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Because social media emphasizes immediacy, access and personal sharing it is particularly important to minimize harm for your audience, your sources, your colleagues and yourself.

  • The informality of social networking sites makes it easier for potential sources to misunderstand your intentions and the impact of cooperating. Be clear with your sources: Disclose who you are, what you are seeking and where your story will and/or could run.

  • Understand that media elements (e.g. photos, video) contained within social media posts are in many cases the property of the poster and removing or “ripping” these elements from posts may violate the use terms of social media platforms. “Fair use” is a cornerstone of trademark law that permits the limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as news reporting, criticism, teaching, scholarship or research. If you’re not sure whether extracting a particular media element from a social media post constitutes fair use, consult a faculty member for approval. When in doubt, embed the post rather than extracting the media element. Always credit images, video and other media that you do not own or did not create yourself.

  • Take care when dealing with minors and other vulnerable people who might not fully understand the consequences of cooperating with a journalist. If contacting a child through a social networking site, make sure he or she connects you with a responsible adult before proceeding.

  • Journalists sometimes become the target of critical or inflammatory remarks about their work or the topics they cover. Do not respond to or address such remarks; instead, notify a faculty member immediately of any remarks you feel contain threatening, racist, misogynist or otherwise personal attacks.