The Washington Post has told its journalists not to debate with the paper's readers on Twitter.
Following an exchange of tweets on the Post's main Twitter account, a memo was circulated to staff telling them to desist.
"Even as we encourage everyone in the newsroom to embrace social media and relevant tools, it is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post-branded accounts is to use them as a platform to promote news, bring in user generated content and increase audience engagement with Post content.
No branded Post accounts should be used to answer critics and speak on behalf of the Post, just as you should follow our normal journalistic guidelines in not using your personal social media accounts to speak on behalf of the Post."
The memo followed the Post's online publication of a controversial article by a so-called "anti-gay activist", Christian compassion requires the truth about harms of homosexuality
The piece, which came after a spate of suicides by teenagers bullied for being gay, implied that homosexuality is a mental health issue. That prompted a gay activist group to complain via Twitter. Post staff defended publication with responding tweets.
But that, according to Post management, was the wrong thing to do. The memo demanding Twitter silence said:
"Perhaps it would be useful to think of the issue this way: when we write a story, our readers are free to respond and we provide them a venue to do so.
We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor - and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It's something we don't do."
Journalism is surely about engagement with readers. In this digital age, debate is easier than ever before. To ban journalists from entering into discussion with critics is a denial of freedom for both journalists and citizens.
I'm afraid that the memo smacks of "big media" arrogance, implying that the Post is setting the terms of "audience engagement" as some kind of promotional activity rather than a genuine attempt to promote dialogue between editorial staff and readers.
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