Anna, my favorite journalism-school-chick-turned-hot-blonde-business-reporter emailed me today asking: Does your employer have an ethics policy? If so, does it address the issue of social networking and personal blogging? Good questions.
Anna is on the ethics committee at her newspaper, The Bend Bulletin, and the committee is revisiting its policies to address these questions and create rules to help reporters maintain objectivity in the eye of their audiences. Young journalists, like many entering the workforce, often maintain MySpace pages and/or personal blogs, which may threaten the unbiased profiles they must maintain. Anna actually chose to take her own blog down last year because she didn't want her personal opinions and beliefs to jeopardize her credibility and reputation as a journalist.
My PR firm absolutely maintains an ethics policy. There are statements about conflicts of interest with other occupations, activities, etc., but blogs and social networking are not called out specifically. I keep my MySpace profile private to the public but know plenty of coworkers who maintain public MySpace profiles. I, of course, maintain one of the world's most influential blogs on the Internet and now have an in-office readership, similar to the one I developed at PRWeb, which has led to no consequence.
I don't think Anna's newspapers should rule out blogs entirely. Some people may keep family blogs, or non-editorial kinds of blogs, but any content that may risk objectivity should be a no-no. I say that these are OK but perhaps the committee should require employees to disclose the addresses of their personal blogs or Web sites. Guidelines defining inappropriate content, such as commenting on news, could help reporters determine the boundaries of their personal blogs, too.
MySpace is too socially prevalent to restrict, but the newspaper should require that employees keep their profiles private to the public. Some "party" pictures of a recent job applicant circulated around my office recently, which management found on MySpace. The applicant was hired regardless, which shouldn't come as a surprise if you've seen my pictures here. Everyone at the office likes to party.
Anna's newspaper should rewrite its ethics policy to include guidelines about appropriate blogging and social networking activity, but should not entirely dismiss its employees' ability to explore and utilize the online tools and resources that can enrich their lives without necessarily sacrificing their journalistic integrity.