Is AP forgetting simple rules by restricting retweets?


Associated Press (AP) thinks their staff shouldn’t be allowed to retweet on twitter due to the high risk of their journalists being perceived as biased. Perhaps rather than issuing unnecessarily strict social media rules to their well educated writers, the AP might consider some other rules common to any journalist.

An article by Caitlin Johnston in the American Journalism Review exploring AP’s instruction to writers not to retweet on twitter was shared into my tweetstream yesterday:

Retweets are an endorsement says Caitlin Johnston in the American Journalism Review

My immediate reaction reading the content of the tweet and the first lines of the article was Ms. Johnston didn’t ‘have a clue’ and I wasn’t afraid to retweet with that as my commentary.

Reading the article in more detail, I know now Johnston was, in fact, going about her job by producing an extremely fair and balanced piece on the entire topic of retweeting and how it is perceived by various sections of the Media Industry.

She explores those retweeting rules recently issued by AP to their Journalists, including quoting AP’s standard’s editor, Tom Kent, as saying: “…by simply retweeting the information the journalist could be suggesting that he or she endorses it.”

Which, if you think about what happens when you retweet on Twitter, is akin to a scenario where I would say to someone: “so and so thinks xyz about abc” and that person then tells another it was I who thinks “xyz about abc”.

One of my favourite bloggers on the topic of Journalism and writing in general, Bill Bennett, also wrote today on Craig Silverman’s eight simple rules for accurate journalism. Bill quotes Mr. Silverman’s first rule as being:

 “Initial, mistaken information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction”.

At first glance it seems this rule is backing up AP’s banning of retweets by staff, yet his article also teaches us “Failure sucks but instructs”.

Compared with the reaction AP might receive if one of their staff retweeted something controversial, my transgression against Johnston probably disappeared beneath most radars. I am however intending to use my failure to instruct myself  that “Verification before dissemination” is all important. If I can do that, then I’m sure AP could also respond to negative situations caused by a misplaced retweet with some relevant coaching and guidance for their staff.

Silverman’s last rule; “It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup”, needs also to be remembered in the context of any perceived failure. Circling the wagons often presumes further guilt by your the readers. The AP might consider that correcting the record and coaching their staff is a much more efficient response. It’s likely your readers will reward you and your writer will likely be happier too.

I can’t finish without issuing my own correction, despite Silverman’s guidance about them, and apologise to Caitlin Johnston for my reaction on Twitter. I thought her piece was actually excellent and will heartily retweet it as an endorsement.

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2 thoughts on “Is AP forgetting simple rules by restricting retweets?

  1. It’s a difficult one.

    To me retweeting a news snip or link does’t imply approval or endorsement of the content. It may imply endorsement of the source.

    One local journalist, Paul Wiggins, (@paulwiggins) has sidestepped this issue neatly in the past writing words to the effect of “repeated without comment or endorsement” on tweets. But that’s a lot of overhead for a 140 character medium.

    As for me, I often retweet things I don’t agree with or buy into. I wonder if I should stop?

  2. Pingback: This American Life retracts “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” | Making Hay

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