Saying they can be "vital news-gathering and news-delivery tools," the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Wednesday issued new ethics guidelines for blogs and social media.
RTDNA represents more than 3,000 news directors, educators, students and others, according to the association.
The crux of the guidelines is that news organizations need to apply the same standards of fairness, accuracy and source-checking to information from Twitter or a blog or Facebook as they do for their other journalistic enterprises.
"Twitter's character limits and immediacy are not excuses for inaccuracy and unfairness," say the guidelines, and "[s]ocial media comments and postings should meet the same standards of fairness, accuracy and attribution that you apply to your on-air or digital platforms."
The guidelines advise that any information taken from the Web needs to be confirmed as with a phone tip or police scanner. "If you cannot independently confirm critical information, reveal your sources; tell the public how you know what you know and what you cannot confirm."
The guidelines advise journalists not to use avatars or pseudonym on newsroom or even personal web sites. And, given that, cautions them to be careful when posting, blogging or Tweeting about an issue you or someone else in the newsroom covers.
"Editorializing about a topic or person can reveal your personal feelings," says the guidelines. And on a more practical note: "Biased comments could be used in a court of law to demonstrate a predisposition, or even malicious intent, in a libel action against the news organization, even for an unrelated story."
The guidelines were developed by the RTDNA Ethics Committee and the Poynter Institute.
The guidelines come as Congress continues to wrestle with the issue of including bloggers in the definition of media covered by a federal shield law, which is currently being vetted in the Senate. One of the criticisms of including bloggers in the definition is that the same journalistic standards do not necessarily apply to new media.