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WLRN Editorial Standards and Policies for Social Media Outlets

I. Introduction

The Editorial Standards and Policies for social media outlets set forth in this document address the primary principles and standards by which WLRN Public Media evaluates content to be distributed via online blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts on its website or affiliated pages or accounts. These principles and standards primarily pertain to the criteria by which WLRN evaluates content for distribution but also applies to the processes by which content is produced, either by or for WLRN or any other entity whose content might be presented by WLRN.

This guidance is primarily designed to cover informal, non-contractual WLRN prescences on third-party social networking and microblogging sites. These are likely to be branded, but they may be simply set up by WLRN to pursue our public purposes. This document is not intended to apply to user-generated sites that are set up to talk about WLRN content or talent.

WLRN is responsible and accountable for the quality and integrity of the content it distributes. If WLRN concludes that content fails to satisfy its overall standards of quality or any applicable standard or practice, WLRN may reject the content for distribution.

As a public radio and television station, WLRN is a licensee of the Federal Communications Commission and, as such, bears a non-delegable duty to assure that its broadcast program services fulfill its statutory obligations as a broadcaster. In addition, as a community licensee, WLRN is directly responsible for the quality and integrity of the broadcast services it provides the people of the South Florida region.

This document is founded in the Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS”) program policies that were first adopted in 1971/72, updated in 1987 and most recently updated and adopted on June 14, 2005.

II. Guiding Principles

WLRN Public Media is a 501 C (3) nonprofit organization that operates in the public interest by serving the needs of its community. Four fundamental principles shape the content of the programs and services WLRN provides: editorial integrity, quality, diversity and community service.

A. Editorial Integrity
WLRN’s reputation for quality reflects the public’s trust in the editorial integrity of the station’s broadcast content and the process by which it is produced and distributed. WLRN is responsible for shielding the creative and editorial processes from political pressure or undue influence from funders or other sources. WLRN makes every effort to ensure that the content it distributes satisfies editorial standards designed to assure integrity.

B. Quality
In all kinds of output, even the most casual of social media posts, WLRN seeks the highest quality available. Selection decisions require professional judgments about many different aspects of content quality, including, but not limited to excellence, creativity, artistry, accuracy, balance, fairness, timeliness, innovation, boldness, thoroughness, credibility and technical virtuosity. Similar judgments must be made about the content’s ability to stimulate, enlighten, educate, inform, challenge, entertain and amuse.

C. Diversity
To meet its local needs, WLRN strives to offer a wide choice of quality content. Content diversity furthers the goals of a democratic society by enhancing public access to the full range of ideas, information, subject matter and perspectives required to make informed judgments about the issues of our time. The goal of diversity also requires continuing efforts to assure that WLRN content fully reflects the pluralism of our society, including, for example, appropriate representation of women and the various minorities that call South Florida home. The diversity of all content should demonstrate plurality, and assure that WLRN is not dominated by any single point of view.

D. Service to the Community
WLRN’s primary commitment is to provide programs and services that elevate the quality of life in the South Florida region. WLRN believes it can best serve the community by upholding the high standards set forth by NPR and PBS and by striving to incorporate those standards in to every endeavor. It is through integrity, quality, diversity and community service that the greatest potential of public broadcasting social media is realized. Whether in blogs, social media accounts, or personal accounts WLRN is guided by these values.

III. Journalistic Standards and Guidelines

A. Reporters, photographers, and editors should interact with online readers, just like taking a phone call or responding to an email.

B. Social networks are ubiquitous enough that journalists who insist on avoiding them are likely to miss good opportunities and great stories. To that end, we encourage responsible use of such networks to form connections, find story ideas, and locate sources.

I. Making connections is good. Journalists should ensure they are using a full array of tools for gathering information, including face-to-face interviews and shoe-leather reporting

II. Journalists must compensate for the skew of online reporting.

You are likely to find younger, whiter, more affluent sources online. Journalist should constantly strive for diverse representations in their stories.

III. Information gathered online should be independently confirmed offline. Interview sources in person or over the phone whenever possible. Verify claims and statements.

IV. Ensure informed consent. It is easy for sources to misunderstand your intentions. It is your responsibility to tell them who you are, what you are doing, ad where your work will run.

V. Take special consideration with children and other vulnerable people. When contacting children, make sure they connect you with a responsible adult.

VI. Be transparent with the audience as well as sources. Let them know how you contacted people, in what context you gathered the information, and how you did or did not verify it.

C. Do not advocate for political or other polarizing issues online.

This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including a personal Facebook page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for in print or on WLRN.org

D. Participation in some online groups could be seen to indicate that you endorse their views. Consider whether you can accomplish your

purposes by just observing a group’s activity, rather than becoming a member. If you do choose to join, be clear that you have done so to seek information or story ideas. If you do decide to “friend”, “fan”, or join a group representing one side of an issue, try to do the same with a group representing the competing viewpoint.

E. Guidelines for promoting work through social networks: It is important and valuable to promote our work through social networks.
Individual staffers bear most of this burden. But the newsroom as an institution is responsible for some of this work. When promoting your work

I.     Be accurate.  It’s easy to sensationalize or oversimplify.
II.     Be clear. If you are not a good headline writer, seek some training.
III.     Always include a link and make sure the link works.
IV. For ongoing issues or stories, editors are responsible for crafting a quick strategy for promoting and branding their work.
V.     Editors and online staff should identify work that should be branded and promoted on an institutional basis.

F.     Balancing the personal and the professional: It is increasingly difficult to keep your social networking page strictly private and personal. To that end, journalists must recognize that everything on their pages has the potential to influence their reputations and by extension the credibility of their newsrooms.

I.     Don’t post information that could embarrass you or your

newsroom, even if you believe your page is private.
II. Use the tools, such as limited profiles and privacy settings, to restrict access to your most private information.
III. Recognize that your actions can be misinterpreted. You may sign up for a group to get story ideas, but people may see you as a fan. State your intentions often, in wall posts and other notifications. When appropriate, tell groups when you are signing up that you are looking for story ideas.
IV. One strategy might be to sign up for many groups. If you become a fan of a political party, become a fan of the other parties as well to avoid perceptions of bias.

III. Editorial Standards

Precision in editorial standards is especially difficult because it is impossible to articulate every criterion that might enter into the evaluation of the quality and integrity of particular content. Moreover, a criterion considered mandatory for straight news or events reporting may not always be applicable to all the kind of interactions that encompass the social media world.

Content evaluation is an art, not a science. The process requires professional judgments about the value of content in relation to a broad range of informational, aesthetic, technical and other considerations. WLRN’s task, therefore, is to weigh the merits of potential content and assure that, when viewed in its entirety, the content achieves the best balance among these considerations. These Standards and Policies embody the goals of integrity and quality to which WLRN aspires, recognizing that judgments about how these standards apply may differ depending on format or subject, and that not all content succeeds equally in satisfying all of these standards.

WLRN recognizes that the producers of informational content deal neither in absolute truth nor in absolute objectivity. Information is by nature fragmentary; the honesty of any kind of content whatsoever can never be measured by a precise, scientifically verifiable formula. Therefore, content quality ultimately depends on each producer’s professionalism, independence, honesty, integrity, sound judgment, common sense, open mindedness and intention to inform, not to propagandize.

A.  Use of the WLRN Brand
You can put the brand/logo on third party sites. This has the advantage of transparency. It is important to remember that the WLRN logo is intended to give the impression that this is a genuine, authorized presence, so the nature of that presence should reflect credit on the brand.

Any logos should, whenever possible, contain links back to the WLRN.org domain. If it cannot technically be done, a link should be placed as close as possible to the logo. If a question should arise about the correct use of the WLRN brands, ask the relevant Head of Communications or Brand Guardianship. If a logo cannot be used, it should be clear to users that they are interacting with a page run by and for WLRN.

B.  Tone of Voice
We should be sensitive to the expectations of existing users of the specific sites where these interactions take place. If we are to add a WLRN presence to a site it should be considered that we are joining their site rather than the opposite. Whenever possible we should “go with the grain” and be sensitive to user customs to avoid giving the impression that we are imposing ourselves on them and their space.
For example, we should be sensitive to the fact that users on site X are not our users. They are not bound by any of the Terms and Conditions of our existing sites, and any attempt to enforce our standards on the site may result in resentment, criticism, and hostility towards our brand. This should be avoided at all costs.

This is in not to say that extreme behavior likely to cause offense, for example using derogatory slurs, should be tolerated in any way on a WLRN branded space on a social networking or media site. Wherever a need to intervene should arise, it should be done with a light touch, sensitive to the different context and expectations from an official site.

C.  Level of Engagement
Before the page/profile/account is set up and launched it is important to collaborate with the proper senior editorial figure about what level of engagement you want, what resources you will need to achieve it, and over what period of time.

The site or account should have a clearly defined goal, and the specific level of engagement that you seek should be clearly drawn out. For example, are users going to be able to post pictures and video responses to your posts? Will they be able to add their own text comments? Will the comments be moderated, and if so, by who? Are there available resources to fulfill that goal?

D.  Moderation and Interacting with “Friends”
Moderation of user-generated feedback should be done regularly and frequently, allowing the free-flow of ideas and input, yet removing incendiary responses might arise. In the case that a particular user demonstrates behavior which is not acceptable by these standards, measures should be taken to delete or block them so as to prevent further offenses.

In addition to users who generate unacceptable content, all content should be browsed for spam. Spam should not be tolerated, and steps should be taken to avoid it.

Personal one-on-one interaction with “friends” should be kept minimal, in order to maintain our standards of transparency, yet they are sure to arise.
Whenever possible every communication between the site or account and users should be made as public as possible.

E.  Working with the Community
We should take care not to give users the impression that we are interested in setting up a fully interactive profile or page if that page is then neglected or abandoned after it has achieved a one-off short term purpose.

This is particularly true if a community of interest has formed around the page or profile. It may be possible to hand a limited-life WLRN page or profile over to the community which has grown around it, after a broadcast-led engagement has come to an end. This needs thinking about before the page is created. It may then become necessary to remove some or all of the WLRN branding. It may also be useful to add a disclaimer to the effect that this site was created by the WLRN but is now being run by the community.

A.     F.  Fairness
Fairness to the audience implies several responsibilities. Content must neither oversimplify complex situations nor camouflage straightforward facts. WLRN may reject a program or other content if WLRN believes that it contains any unfair or misleading presentation of facts, including inaccurate statements of material fact, undocumented statements of fact that appear questionable on their face, misleading juxtapositions, misrepresentations or distortions.

    WLRN will reject content if, in its judgment, the content unfairly treats people or misrepresents their views. Fair treatment of individuals generally requires that the words and actions of the people portrayed or identified are represented in a way that presents their strongest case and gives individuals or organizations that are the subjects of attack or criticism an opportunity to respond. Fairness also requires the consideration of all relevant information and points of view.

G.  Accuracy
The honesty and integrity of informational content depends heavily upon its factual accuracy. Every effort must be made to assure that content is presented accurately and in context. Programs, websites and other content containing editorials, analysis, commentary and points of view must be
held to the same standards of factual accuracy as news reports. A commitment to accuracy includes a willingness to correct the record if persuasive new information warrants a correction and to respond to feedback and questions from audiences.

WLRN will strive to verify the accuracy of content in its
productions. Producers of informational content must exercise extreme care in verifying information, especially as it may relate to accusations of wrongdoing, and be prepared to correct material errors. WLRN will reject content that, in its judgment, fails to meet WLRN’s standard of accuracy.

H.  Objectivity
Objectivity encompasses more than the neutral presentation of news and information. Objectivity also refers to the process by which a work is produced, including work that involves analysis or, as a result of reporting, arrives at conclusions. Those who develop content for public broadcast must enter into any inquiry with an open mind, not with the intent to present a predetermined point of view. Beyond that, for a work to be considered objective, it should reach a certain level of transparency. In a broad sense, this spirit of transparency means the audience should be able to understand the basics of how the producers put the material

together. And when controversy is anticipated, producers should prepare to help audiences understand editorial decisions, particularly regarding anonymous sources of information. In the spirit of transparency, producers should be able to explain the derivation of a point of view. One aspiration implicit in the idea of transparency is that an audience might appreciate and learn from content with which it also might disagree.

Opinion and commentary are different from news and analysis. When a program, segment or other content is devoted to opinion or commentary, the principle of transparency requires that opinion be clearly labeled as such. Any content segment that presets only like-minded views without offering contrasting viewpoints should be considered opinion and should identify who is responsible for the views being presented.

I.  Balance
WLRN seeks to present, over time, content that addresses a broad range of subjects from a variety of viewpoints. WLRN may, however, choose to consider not only the extent to which the content contributes to balance overall, but also the extent to which specific content is fairly presented in
light of available evidence.

Where appropriate, WLRN may condition acceptance of content on the producer’s willingness to further the goal of balance by deleting designated footage or by including other points of view on the issues presented or material from which the public might draw a conclusion different from that suggested by the content. Material to be added may range from a few words, to a complete content segment, to an added episode in a series of programs, to the production of an entirely separate, new program. For online content, links to credible, high-quality, related resources may be used to provide access to additional information or viewpoints.

J.  Responsiveness to the Public
WLRN’s commitment to the community it serves includes accountability and responsiveness. WLRN will answer audience questions and respond to criticisms about programs and content. Public feedback will be labeled as such, and standards – such as those relating to obscenity or personal attacks – will be applied.

K.  Courage and Controversy
WLRN seeks content that provides courageous and responsible treatment of issues and honest reporting of social, political, and economic tensions, disagreements and divisions. The surest road to intellectual stagnation and social isolation is to stifle the expression of uncommon ideas; today’s dissent may be tomorrow’s orthodoxy. The ultimate task of weighing and judging information and viewpoints is, in a free and open society, the task of the audience. Therefore, WLRN seeks to assure that its overall content offerings contain a broad range of opinions and points of view, including those from outside society’s existing consensus, presented in a responsible manner and consistent with the standards set forth in these Standards and Policies.

L.  Experimentation and Innovation
WLRN seeks content that is innovative in format, technique or substance. The absence of commercial considerations accords WLRN the freedom to experiment in ways not always tolerable in the commercial environment. Though standards of quality, substance and public service always prevail, the potential for innovation can be fully realized only if WLRN is bold enough to take occasional risks.

M.  Exploration of Significant Subjects
Unlike their commercial counterparts, public media stations do not sell time for profit and are, therefore, free from the constraints that compel commercial broadcasters to pursue the largest audience. WLRN seeks programs that explore significant subjects even if those subjects or their treatment may not be expected to appeal to a large audience.

N.  Unprofessional Conduct
WLRN expects producers of content to adhere to the highest professional standards. WLRN may reject content if WLRN has reason to believe that a producer has violated basic standards of professional conduct. Examples of unprofessional conduct by a producer include such things as plagiarism, fabrication, obtaining information by bribery or coercion, insensitivity to tragedy or grief, and real or perceived conflicts of interest such as accepting gifts, favors or compensation from those who might seek to influence the producer’s work.

O.  Objectionable Material
Responsible treatment of important issues may sometimes require the inclusion of controversial or sensitive material, but good taste must prevail in WLRN content. Morbid or sensational details, or material that is gratuitously offensive to general taste or manners (e.g., extreme violence, racial epithets, strong language, nudity, sexism), should not be included unless it is necessary to an understanding of the matter at hand.

Questions of taste cannot be answered in the abstract, but when specific problems arise, they must be resolved in light of contemporary standards of taste, the state of the law and the newsworthiness and overall value of the material. If WLRN concludes that the exclusion of such material would distort an important reality or impair the content’s artistic quality, WLRN may accept the content, provided it carries appropriate notice to the viewer. Conversely, WLRN may reject content that, in its judgment, needlessly contains objectionable material that compromises the content’s quality or integrity.

P.  Site Closure
It is important to have a clear plan from the start about how long the association between WLRN and the site/profile/page will last. Our presence may be tactical, we may wish to hand the space over to the community or it may be sensible to announce closure to its users and then shut the space down. It is incumbent on the person responsible for our presence to maintain the site or to arrange an exit.

Above all, we should not leave the site WLRN branded but neglected, carrying the risk to the brand without exercising any editorial control.