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Chapter 5: Law and Ethics: Reporting Rules of the Road

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Andy Carvin, National Public Radio’s social media strategist, explains how his use of Twitter as a newsgathering tool does not change his responsibility to check out information.

John Yemma, editor-in-chief of the Christian Science Monitor, offers his view as to how he thinks journalists should present themselves on social media.

Kate Gardiner, a social media consultant who has worked with a range of media from Al Jazeera to the Washington Post, suggests ways for journalists to check out social media sources to ensure they are trustworthy.

Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon.com in March 2011 before becoming Google’s news products head, says that the addition of new technologies does not invalidate traditional ethical practices.


  1. Look up your state’s public meetings/sunshine law. Check back to see if there have been challenges to the law in the past two years by checking social media and news sites for legal, free speech, journalism, and good government organizations (such as the ACLU, the First Amendment Center, Society for Professional Journalists, Online News Association, etc.).
  2. Look up Sunshine Week issues mentioned in your area for the past two years by checking social media, news sites, journalism organizations, and legal/free speech/good government organizations.
  3. Work as a class or individually and put together a data base of social media rules of your local news media. Check out if and how reporters can use Twitter and Facebook. Also, determine policies for using pictures and information from Twitter and Facebook in news reports. How similar or how different are the local media’s policies?
  4. Check state law and court actions on whether a shopping mall’s open space is considered a public space. Check and see your state’s restrictions on recording telephone conversations. Figure out how you would go about and report a story so that you can operate within legal and ethical guidelines.


Links on stories that illustrate ethical or legal challenges

High salaries stir outrage in Bell

The Rolling Stone profile of Stanley McChrystal

Reconstruction of a media mess [Shirley Sherrod story]

Dealing with Assange and the WikiLeaks secrets

Wikipedia in the newsroom

Citing Wikipedia

AFP reporters barred from using Wikipedia and Facebook as sources

Links to some journalism ethics websites

Craig Johnson’s Regret the Error

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

Radio Television Digital News Association

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Society of Professional Journalists

Links on how to avoid ethical issues with social media

How to verify—and when to publish—news accounts posted on social media

BS detection for digital content

How to: Verify content from social media

How to decide what can be published, what’s private on Twitter and Facebook

The limits of control
With journalists and their employers increasingly active on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, news organizations are struggling to respond to a host of new ethics challenges.

Ethics question: Should Facebook posts be quoted without permission?

Newsgathering (access to places)

With 140 characters at a time, Twitter is presenting new challenges to journalists

Links to legal and ethical rules on reporting

The Government in the Sunshine Act/how the Sunshine Act works

The naked retweet dilemma
If journalists retweet information and links without providing any lead-in or context, does that suggest that they endorse it?

Rethink shield laws

News organizations implement new social media ethics policies

Poynter, newsrooms develop social networking policies for journalists on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter

NPR’s new guidelines for using social networks: “Respect their cultures”

Social media and blogging guidelines

Rethinking journalism ethics, objectivity in the age of social media

To friend or not to friend?
Should reporters befriend their sources via social media?

Sky News tells reporters not to retweet outsiders or anything off their beat

AP issues staff guidelines on retweets, no “personal opinions” allowed or implied

On retweeting: how broadcasting someone else’s 140 characters helps make a new medium social

The YouTube factor
Should local TV news operations post material on the video behemoth?

How-to journalism with YouTube

The journalist’s guide to YouTube


Bast, A. (2010, June 22). How Rolling Stone got into McChrystal’s inner circle. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from newsweek.com: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/06/22/rolling-stone-author-discusses-general-mcchrystal-interview.html.

Burris, A. (2011, February 4). Journalist. (J. Kolodzy, Interviewer).

Carvin, A. (2011, December 1). National Public Radio social media strategist. (J. Kolodzy, Interviewer).

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2011, from centerforsocialmedia.org: http://centerforsocialmedia.org/fair-use/related-materials/codes/code-best-practices-fair-use-online-video.

Gardiner, K. (2011, June 24). Social media consultant. (J. Kolodzy, Interviewer).

Jurkowitz, M. (2010, July 26). The reconstruction of a media mess. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from journalism.org: http://www.journalism.org/commentary_backgrounder/shirley_sherrod_page.

Kiesow, D. (2011, February 14). Poynter Institute Digital Media Fellow. (J. Kolodzy, Interviewer).

Lavoie, D. (2011, February 2). Mass. judges agree to prohibit court photos of certain suspects. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from boston.com: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/02/02/mass_judges_agree_to_prohibit_court_photos_of_certain_suspects/.

Ostrow, R. (2003, February 15). Richard Jewell and the Olympic bombing. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from journalism.org: http://www.journalism.org/node/1791.

Poulsen, K. (2010, December 2). Lieberman introduces WikiLeaks legislation. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from wired.com: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/shield/.

Rainey, J. (2010, July 21). On the media: How many more Bells are out there? Retrieved February 16, 2011, from latimes.com: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/21/entertainment/la-et-onthemedia-20100721.

Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press. (2011). Retrieved February 8, 2011, from www.rcfp.org.

Seitz, J. (2010, Winter). Uncovering an uncovered story in Bell, California. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from nieman.harvard.edu/reports: http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/102511/Uncovering-an-Uncovered-Story-in-Bell-California.aspx.

Stanton, R. & Fuhrmann, H. (2009, November 19). Times updates social media guidelines. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from latimes.com: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/readers/2009/11/updated-social-media-guidelines.html.

What we found. (2009, April/May). American Journalism Review, pp. 30–35.