WSJ rules on Twitter: too restrictive


Staffers at the Wall Street Journal recently received an updated corporate conduct policy, including sections on how to behave when using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The response to the new rules of engagement, however, has been far from positive so far, with Jeff Jarvis saying the Journal was guilty of “missing the point.” Jarvis says the new rules don’t allow reporters to “make their reporting collaborative,” and that one of the benefits of such social networks is that they “provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper … and to become human.”

The need to have a conduct policy is a reality for major newspapers, and it makes sense to deal with new areas such as Twitter and Facebook — the paper I work for is developing a similar policy. But I have to agree with Jeff about the Journal’s restrictions on reporter behaviour. Obviously, a newspaper doesn’t want to give away the store and tell everyone what stories it is working on, or tip its hand in a variety of other ways, and probably doesn’t want to go into detail about how certain stories emerged (especially if it was a fortuitous accident). But Jarvis is right that talking about stories that are under way can also have tremendous benefits.

The biggest point, however, is that Twitter is inherently personal — that’s why people use it, and why they enjoy it and become loyal to those they follow. The idea that you can maintain a strict division between the personal and professional just doesn’t jibe with the way social networks (or human beings) operate. Naturally, a newspaper like the Journal doesn’t want its reporters discussing every detail of their personal lives on Twitter, and no one would argue with that. A little taste of the personal can have a tremendous impact, however, and can build loyalty with readers. Media outlets like the Journal ignore that at their peril. Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications in Iowa has a good take on the new rules as well, and so does Gina Chen.

Comments (4)

  1. DaivRawks wrote::

    See, I actually think that Jeff Jarvis, et al. are those who are missing the point.

    WSJ and other great big “concerns” like them invest quite a bit of money into building THEIR brand. Those who work for them try to leverage that BIG brand to create their OWN brand.

    If the individuals who work for WSJ (as an example) were to take the money and effort and marketing that WSJ put into creating their OWN brand rather than constantly, consistently, and exclusively reinforcing the brand of their master… err, employer… well, then, that's just a little bit of money that WSJ ISN'T making, that theoretically it COULD be making if that same time spent talking like a “real person” were instead spent paying homage to the mother ship.

    This is business, and that's why it's called “work” and why people don't complain about their long commute and long hours spent driving to “fun” every day. They pay you and, in exchange, they own the efforts of your labor.

    If you work for a huge company and you want to leverage their brand to build your own — guess what? They don't want that, they probably won't like that, and they might just fire you and replace you like the little cog in the great big machine that you really are.

    – Daiv

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 8:47 am #
  2. mathewi wrote::

    I can see your point, Dave, but I disagree. Yes, media outlets risk creating personal brands by allowing their writers to promote themselves in this way — and some of those brands might decide to go out on their own. But that happens all the time, just as musicians who feel they have outgrown a label often move on to a different one, or go direct.

    The reality is that people tend to identify with and relate to individuals, not to corporate brands — or rather, the value they see in corporate brands is an amalgam of their respect for or admiration of or attraction to personalities within that corporate entity.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 9:02 pm #
  3. Daiv Russell wrote::

    Perhaps I wasn't as direct as I should have been: WSJ's policy is stupid and based upon their greed, rather than service to their readership. Their policy, as with every policy of every other huge company, is about keeping their money and making as much more as possible.

    If one has grown to big as an individual to be fulfilled at WSJ (or wherever), then one should leave them, and thus one readily becomes unaffected by their rules. If one is not yet big enough to leave said nest, one will remain impacted by the rules of their host.

    – Daiv

    Friday, May 15, 2009 at 6:04 am #
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