Hell hath no fury like a journalist who can't freely retweet. The Associated Press is facing a wave of backlash today following the release of its new guidelines for Twitter usage. According to a new company memo, employees are barred from sharing personal opinions or retweeting opinions even if they post the disclaimer "retweets do not constitute endorsements" on their Twitter bios. The guidelines depict the rules as such:
Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying. For instance:
RT @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools
[...] These kinds of unadorned retweets must be avoided.
However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Colons and quote marks help make the distinction:
RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools
The AP, one of the largest news organizations in the world with more than 3,700 employees, is very sensitive to allegations of bias and it can't be denied that the emergence of Twitter has opened up a big wide target for media watchdogs and critics of the mainstream press, however tendentious the attacks may be. Still in a profession that's supposed to be rooted in openness and honesty, the guidelines were savaged as draconian by a number of journalist tweeters. Poynter's Media News blog, has a roundup of the gamut of negative responses; The initial backlash was two-fold. The first was for seeming to instruct journalists where they need to place an "RT" when retweeting (at the very beginning, divorced from the user handle a la "RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools").
That fire caused bitter responses slamming the news organization for not "getting" Twitter—a fire that the AP's standard's editor Tom Kent and director of media relations Paul Colford tried to put out as fast as they could.
Still, the regulation of tweets did not sit well with hordes of journalists, including The New York Times's hallowed media reporter David Carr who Colford rattled sabers with tweet for tweet.
Elsewhere, denunciations were more blunt.
What do AP reporters think? The response, on Twitter at least, is radio silence. A review of two of the largest Twitter lists for AP reporters, here and here (this one officially curated by the AP) has sparse results. It appears they take this vow of no opinions very seriously. Of the 121 reporters this feed follows, only Erik Schelzig, whose bio says he covers the Tennessee Statehouse for The Associated Press, tweeted about the memo:
It's hard to tweet any safer than that. On the AP's official Twitter list, which follows 176 AP reporters, not one tweet could be found remarking on the new policy (save for Schelzig's). When contacted about the criticisms leveled at the AP, director of media relations Paul Colford pointed us to an explanation by Lou Ferrara, managing editor for sports, entertainment and interactive. "People will disagree," he said to Yahoo's The Cutline, "but our job is to make sure our journalists--and others in the industry who regularly follow AP's advice--participate in social media without bias."