I know the Washington Post isn’t the first major newspaper to develop a not-too-well-thought-out social media policy, but it’s the latest, it’s one that I’ve actually paid attention to and I’m kind of confused about what it actually means.
My problem with the policy is that it seems to treat a symptom while completely ignoring the larger issue. The gist seems to be, as WaPo blogger Rob Pegoraro puts it, “don’t do something that will make reasonable people think you’re biased.” Doesn’t that statement itself admit some level of bias? Besides that, don’t do something to make people think you’re biased? Someone, somewhere—yes, perhaps even a “reasonable person”—will always think you’re biased (which just makes that statement seem like a thinly veiled jab at “crazies” who don’t trust the Post).
The cat’s already out of the bag anyway—this whole thing started over a managing editor’s lament via Twitter that for all the debt we incur on wars, we can’t seem to increase it by a dollar for health care. (I actually think that’s a good point—after all, it’s true—and don’t really see why it’s biased. It’s more: likely to offend people who’re vehemently opposed to health care. But whatever.) Guess what? Raju Narisetti thought that before he said it and he was still a managing editor at the Washington Post.
The point? Take it away, TechCrunch: “…the idea that any kind of reporting lacks any kind of bias on some level is laughable.” I’ll second that, but I find it unlikely that we’ll be joined anytime soon my MSM.
The worst things about social media policies (and attitudes) like this are (1) They serve only to cripple journalists who ought to be building community and trust around their content (and, to a degree I’m sure WaPo and others could care less about, their own personal brands) and (2) They make the MSM organizations look like idiots. Hearing, “Hey, everyone, we’re unbiased!” from the Washington Post sounds a lot like hearing, “Hey, everyone, pro wrestling’s not fake!” from WWE.
I don’t expect MSM to come out and say, “OK, we’ve been biased all these years,” (that’s not entirely true anyway) but they ought to stop screaming about how unbiased they are, because the harder they defend themselves, the guiltier they look.
Update: Jeremy Littau has a great take on this, too, including this gem:
“The beauty of social media is that it has the capability of liberating journalism from the sham of objectivity.”
I’m about ready to hang that up over my desk.