New York Times Memo: Reporters Must Have 'Neutrality and Fairness' on Social Media

Perceptions of bias could 'undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom'

New York Times
Getty Images
October 13, 2017

The New York Times on Friday released new social media guidelines for its reporters, requiring them to avoid any actions that would lead to perceptions of bias or otherwise damage the paper's reputation.

The new guidelines apply to all social media platforms, public and private, and include stipulations about political objectivity, sharing stories in a one-sided manner, joining partisan groups, and more. The memo states that it only adds further detail to the policy that reporters do not damage the paper's credibility.

"If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom," the memo reads.

"We've always made clear that newsroom employees should avoid posting anything on social media that damages our reputation for neutrality and fairness," it adds. "This memo offers more detailed guidelines."

The memo puts a primary focus on taking political sides, which the Times says it seeks to prevent in order to maintain a sense of objectivity.

"Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that the Times is seeking to cover objectively," the memo reads.

The new document could be a helpful response to members of the Times newsroom who have taken liberties with guidelines that were previously more general.

Jonathan Weisman, the Times' deputy Washington editor, asked his followers on Thursday if Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was proposing "socialism" with a proposal regarding coal transport.

Weisman also took to Twitter on Thursday to say President Donald Trump’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA amount to an attempt to "blow up" the trade deal. He has also tweeted negatively about critics of former President Barack Obama.

The Times memo also lays out ways that writers could reveal bias by only sharing one side of a given issue, and it encourages reporters to share from other websites if they help reference "a diverse collection of viewpoints."

"Consistently linking to only one side of a debate can leave the impression that you, too, are taking sides," the memo reads.

This requirement that writers maintain balance in what they share from other outlets may require reporters to adjust how many stories critical of Republicans they share.

The memo also calls on Times reporters not to use social media for customer complaints, which may prove to be a challenge for political reporter Nicholas Confessore. Earlier this month he used Twitter to complain about service at the New York subway, tagging the MTA, and he has also complained about Apple's iOS.

These guidelines may pose difficulties for how Times reporters describe their own work. Confessore currently has a tweet pinned to the top of his Twitter timeline crediting President Donald Trump with providing the Washington swamp "lucrative new business," but it links back to a piece for the New York Times Magazine critical of Trump.

The memo also cautions reporters about promoting partisan events, but it is unclear whether this applies to explicitly anti-Trump events not organized by an opposing political party. Weisman spoke at one such event about how Trump poses difficulties in parenting, and he promoted it on Twitter with a retweet Monday.

Throughout the memo, reporters are reminded of the importance of speaking to their supervisors, other newsroom leaders, or consulting company policy. One thing it recommends is deleting tweets that do not follow the guidelines and issuing a correction, which White House reporter Glenn Thrush did last month regarding a tweet about Vice President Mike Pence.

Thrush announced he would stop using his Twitter a few weeks before the Times released its new guidelines, naming the "distraction" as his reason for dropping it.