AP on social media: Words of guidance and caution

The Associated Press has published its social media guidelines in its online stylebook at www.apstylebook.com.

I hope those of you who have access to AP’s online stylebook will peruse the new social media guidelines.

They are a helpful addition to the stylebook, with such entries as click-throughs, e-book and liveblog. I found it interesting that AP calls for using Google uppercase as a verb and using apostrophes in IM’ing and IM’ed (though it does allow the terms). It also says RSS is acceptable in all references for really simple syndication (as if anyone ever did otherwise).

For those of you who were hoping that e-mail would lose its hyphen or that Internet would become lowercase, sorry. That hasn’t happened. In fact, e-mail and Internet aren’t part of the new section. They still have their own entries in the regular part of the stylebook. The social media section does have an entry for the newly designated website, which also has a separate entry in the main stylebook.

One other thing: In the introduction to the section, AP lays out some specific – and cautious – guidelines for using social media in reporting. I’ve included a couple of paragraphs below.

The first paragraph I’ve included is a little too cautious for my taste, but I agree with the intent: We shouldn’t string together anonymous posts and tweets and photos and videos and try to pass that off as journalism.

Social media offer many new tools for journalists. We should use them as a way to reach out to, not to avoid, the people we want to report on.

Far too often, I see students use social media as a way to avoid talking to people directly. They would rather text than call, send a Facebook message than meet face to face, copy something from an online forum than seek out a source directly.

Sometimes doing that is fine. But social media should be tools, not shortcuts. Shortcuts lead to sloppy reporting, ethical lapses, diminished credibility, potential lawsuits – all sorts of ugly scenarios.

That’s what AP is trying to head off with its guidelines. They are well worth heeding.

From the introduction to the AP social media guidelines:

Most importantly, you should never simply lift quotes, photos or video from social networking sites and attribute them to the name on the profile or feed you found them under. Most social media sites offer a way to send a message to a user – use this to establish direct contact, over e-mail or phone, so you can explain what you’re working on and get more detailed information about the source.

Social networks should never be used as a reporting shortcut when another method, like picking up a phone or knocking on a door, would yield more reliable or comprehensive information. For example, if a key question in a story is only partly or indirectly answered by a tweet sent by a government official, don’t settle for that – reach out to the official to find out more. (Though the tweet might also be worth reporting.)

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