I have almost no doubt you have heard plenty of talk about the importance of being social media savvy, especially when job hunting.  But is your account truly ready for potential bosses “checking in?”  Now that I am also researching and in some cases recruiting journalists for jobs, I am finding that social media accounts are a gold mine of information.  A lot of it you may not even realize.  Until now.

What prospective employers are looking at.

  • Your personality
  • Who your friends are
  • Who your friends are not
  • Potential liabilities

Prospective bosses are reading your tweets, FB postings and any other social media sites they can find you on.  If they get your name or a resume reel, they immediately hop online to check you out.  Count on the fact that they will read what you say from then on, regularly.  So if you complain that all the other women in the newsroom hate you, make fun of viewers, or gripe about everything under the sun, you are sending a clear message that you are a pain in the a#! and hiring you should be avoided.  I am not saying that every tweet has to be sunshine and roses.  You can be real.  You just don’t want to come across as bitter, neurotic, high maintenance or just plain difficult.  That will hurt you immensely.  Also, do not make your twitter account your outlet for your hobby only.  This is really meant for major sports buffs.  If almost every tweet is about your favorite team, consistently over several weeks, you won’t be taken as seriously. (I am talking to news people here, not sporto’s.)  Potential bosses are looking for people who provide thought provoking conversations on a variety of subjects.  They are looking to see if you have the ability to network, and how you interact with your “audience.”

Also, you should be aware that potential employers cruise through your list of friends on your social media accounts.  They monitor which groups you hashtag with regularly on twitter.  The reasons are fascinating.  In some cases, they are checking to see if you are already a Twitter pal with people in their own newsroom.  Maybe you are buds with another reporter/producer/anchor candidate up for the same job.  It is a way to see if you have “friends” in common.  Then they know of ways to check you out, besides that reference list you provided.

They also check to see who you are not friends with.  Do you tweet with coworkers at all?  Do you seem to only talk to fellow Giants or 49er fans?  Do you have broad appeal or are you a one subject wonder surrounded by “followers” of the same thinking?  By reading your friends list, a manager can figure out a lot about how well you integrate with all types of people.

Finally, they look for potential liabilities.  Do you tell off the viewer that balls you out on your Twitter feed?  Do you talk about getting drunk last night?  Do you use the f-word or make crass comments. (Yes, this includes posts on any personal accounts.  Assume they will get access one way or another.)  A lot of GM’s and ND’s have interesting Twitter identities you would never guess, just so they can check on unsuspecting employees and/or potential hires.

Now that you know what potential employers are checking out, make sure you give them a clear look at all you have to offer.  Show off your personality, networking abilities and interaction with your viewers.  Your social media accounts, especially Twitter, are an easy way to really give insight into your worth.  Just focus on your strengths, and give yourself an edge over the competition.

Awhile back a news newbie asked me, “Why do we have to market ourselves so much? I didn’t learn how to do that at school.”  Dare I say, the reason she didn’t learn that was because many J-schools are still sorting it out themselves.  Using social media to market yourself and your work is relatively new.  In fact there are still quite a few NDs that are struggling to understand how to market themselves and their stations online.

That’s all the more reason why you need to market yourself.  Being among the first to stick your nose out and develop relationships with your community will help make you an asset as your ND or station “comes around.”

The good thing about marketing yourself online is that you not only showcase how you can connect with people in a tangible way, you showcase how you will create community at any future jobs.  This can give you an edge in the job market.  Lord knows, we all want an edge.

It also can make it harder for your current boss to say you are irrelevant to the news organization if you have thousands of people checking in with you each day.  This goes for any job in the newsroom.  Producers, directors, assignment editors and photojournalists all provide interesting perspectives viewers want to see, hear and read.


You also want to get comfortable with the lingo and concepts being tested online.  No doubt that social media will continue to impact how news is covered.  Just look at the daily # trending on Twitter to see the influences.  You learn what is happening and how to participate by doing.  More and more companies are requiring journalists to get involved online.  It is nice not to have to do so “cold turkey.”

Finally, this is the way journalists are networking nowadays to find work.  You need to understand how to use it to your benefit in case you need to find a job quickly.  You need to see how the networking happens.  It also gives you a chance to connect with other journalists and exchange notes.  It is another type of job insurance that could be priceless.

So if you are starting out on social media and are trying to figure out what to do, my suggestion is to start with Twitter.  Check out #AMNewsers and #Backchannel for starters.  Watch how these “communities” work with each other.  Before you know it, you can create your own # network and get the bosses singing your praises.


A news producer’s job is never done.  Trust me, I am one.  How do we both engage the anchors and keep our newscasts looking fresh and relevant to an audience who has had access to the internet all day long?  I’m about to suggest a method that will initially make many of you cringe.

Add Twitter to your repertoire. It will make you a better producer who can come up with story ideas faster and have a better grasp on what people in the “real world” are talking about at any given time.

Ok, now that you’ve read that twice, done the gratuitous spit take, and asked the screen (or your fellow producers, for that matter) how on Earth you will have time for that in an already slammed day, I’ll explain.  Again, trust me: I jumped into the Twitterverse about 3 years ago now.  I have no on-screen presence, so no one knows me.  Yet, as of this writing, I have 2100+ followers – more than any of the on-air talent at our station – and it has helped me come up with stories, angles, sources, and scoops that have eluded reporters assigned to those beats.  Believe me yet?  Then let’s get started.

Step One: Get on Twitter

For some reason, most TV producers are technophobes.  We may work with computers all day, but few of us know how they work, and I believe that lack of knowledge leads us to be late adopters of any new technology.  In my shop, I’m the Go-To-Girl (outside our online department, that is) when it comes to social media.   For anyone reading this, I will direct you to this very readable article from Mashable to set yourself up accordingly.  Instead of reinventing the wheel; we take someone else’s wheel and put some shiny new spinners on it!

Step Two: Start with the familiar

As with anything new, I’m going to suggest that you start with something familiar.  For a producer, that’s a press release.  A number of government organizations, non-profits, and other groups use Twitter as just another venue to distribute the traditional press releases.  Not ideal for them, but their lost opportunity is still our gain.  Recognizing this is one of the first steps toward using Twitter to make your day more efficient.

Take 30 minutes or so per day for a week or two and find the Twitter feeds of all the major newsmakers in your area.  For example, I’m in North Carolina.  My governor has a Twitter account.  So does my DOT, where I can get all the info on closed roads, and upcoming road hearings and construction projects.  That’s news your viewers want to use.  All the major universities near me Tweet their news, and so do a number of state agencies.  All of a sudden, some of that stuff that’s cluttering up my inbox, I can read while I’m on Twitter.  There’s one major difference, though: The press release in your inbox is a static document.  The Tweet is dynamic – people highlight the parts they find pertinent, they comment upon it, and the forward it to friends.  This gives you insight into what’s really important in a news release, instead of just the headline.

Once you start collecting a number of similar sources, create lists.  That makes it easy to check the updates without them getting lost in your information stream.  That may seem pointless now, but the more successful at this you become, the more you’ll need these tools to sift through the information so nothing important slips through the cracks.  I use HootSuite to make that happen, but some of my co-workers swear by TweetDeck as well.  Others use the original Twitter interface. Bottom line, get organized now before the data overwhelms you.

One more thing before we leave this step – follow your competition!  It’s just like watching their newscast or reading their website, and I guarantee they’ll follow you when they see you becoming active online.  Get their main account, then look for their individuals, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.  Think twice before interacting, though.  Take commenting slowly, and with a grain of salt, unless you know them personally.  Also be aware, your management may frown upon actual interaction with the “Other Guys” beyond just following them.

Step Three: Start the conversation

Now, Tweet something.  It’s that simple.  When you go to a Meet up group, the only guaranteed way to get people to start talking to you is to start conversation with them.  So begin.  Start small – after all, you’re still looking for your voice.  Tweeting a tease for your newscast is a good start, but make sure you’re not all news, all the time.  Have a conversation with the general public.  Ask open-ended questions that people are encouraged to answer.  Post random musings or some of those funny things you overhear in a newsroom.   Don’t do anything stupid, like posting where your spare key is hidden or that Fido the Guard Dog is all alone at your house tonight.

For the numbers-based producers among us, when starting out, I’d try to go 60%-40% news-non news tweets. As you start to develop an audience, drop back to 40% news (including news organization retweets) 30% non-news, 30% interacting with people and retweets of actual people.  These are just guidelines, though, for people who feel better with rules to follow.  In the end, let your gut reaction be your guide.

A few examples from my last few days:

My boyfriend asked me, could haiku fit in a tweet?  Yes, with space to spare.  This falls into random… Doesn’t require an answer, but people will anyway.

The National Honesty Index says redheads are more honest than blondes or brunettes! Woo hoo Gingers! (I am one – I can say that!)  This is part of me being me online… not quite random but not overly informative either

Read @jgravleyWRAL to get the developments on Butch Davis releasing his personal cell records  This tweet doubles as relating news AND relationship-building… SCORE!
Get your whooping cough vaccine! A baby in Forsyth County is now the first 2012 pertussis death in NC – @WRAL at noon to find out where the shots are   Blatant news tease, but it doesn’t read like one. You get something out of it even if you don’t watch the news

Which brings me to something to watch out for – when you do tweet news teases, be sure to offer substance in the tweet itself.  Don’t make the whole thing a tease, or people will stop reading your stream.  I’ve read many a news station tweet that is aiming solely for the gratuitous click-through, so they say something to the effect of

“Let us know if this is the way you think the logo should look” followed by a link to their website.

That makes me, as a reader, feel a little used.  I would suggest changing it to something like this to make readers feel engaged:

“The state DOT has three options for the new construction zone sign. You can vote for your favorite on our website (same link here)

See – don’t you feel better knowing what you’re clicking?  More satisfied?  Thought you might.  On to step 4 – the other half of the conversation.
Step Four: Find some listeners

So far, we’ve followed institutions, and we’ve started talking.  Now it’s time to make sure people are listening.  Some of the organizational accounts you’ve followed have probably followed you back, and that’s a start.  However, taking Twitter to the next level means finding humans and acting human online.  This is where real life interactions come in.  If you know someone in your area who is big into Twitter, ask them for a few people to follow.  Once you get to know them, ask those people for more suggestions.

Pay attention to the #FF (follow Friday) recommendations that go by – a number of people will qualify their posts so you know what you’re getting.  For example, #FF TV Edition, #FF Raleigh Socialites, #FF Coworkers, et cetera.  Check out the ones that are in areas you’re interested in learning more about – if you don’t like them or they aren’t useful, it’s okay to unfollow them later.

Resist the urge to follow anyone and everyone in an attempt to “collect” followers – try to stick to people who are saying things you find interesting, whether it’s about work or your hobbies or a celebrity who interests you.  Once you find these people, actually read their tweets.  Respond. Interact.  Soon you’ll be someone who is on their radar screen, and you’ll move from feeling like you’re “talking at” people to actually “conversing with” them.

There’s even something to learn from all those organizational account I asked you to follow.  Some of them use Twitter as a press release clearinghouse, others actually get it.  They use their 140 characters wisely to draw you into their organization or the story they’re selling that day.  One of our local universities does a stellar job with this – They send out their typical press releases via email, but when they boil it down to put on Twitter, they find the “why you should care” element and sell it well.  While I am honored they believe journalists can make sense of some of the highly academic language, we often skip interesting things farther down the release because we miss or just can’t find the “Why we care” factor.  Twitter can help you tease that out, both in picking stories and in writing them.
These are the steps that just make Twitter an enjoyable experience.  Now, it’s time to step up and get your news cred out there too.

Step Five: Before you click that Retweet button…    

As you start reading posts, you’ll find a few things you want to share.  Twitter makes that so easy – a few clicks and boom – retweeted to all your followers.  Before you make that set of clicks, though, pause and ask yourself:

1) is it really interesting or really funny?  Or are you just putting another LOLcat out there?

2) Where does it come from?  My rule of thumb is that any news organization that my station respects enough to call by name on the air, I’ll retweet without worries.  So just like we would say “A Washington Post investigation reports…” I have no problem retweeting content from the Washington Post.  Same for AP, CNN, BBC, and NPR – add to the list as you see fit for your area.  On the flip side, I’d stay away from retweeting any other content from major media in your own market.  Independents organizations are ok in my book – they may even thank you for it – but no helping out the local newspaper.

3) Is it on my site already, or can I get it on my site so the link I post drives the traffic there?  If you see a funny story on the wires and want to tweet a link, check your station’s site first.  If it’s not there, ask your web folks if they’ll put it up.  If your station is serious about social media, they’ll appreciate the fact that you thought of driving the traffic to your own site rather than MSNBC or Yahoo News.

Step Six: Adding a Link

It’s worth a paragraph or two here to talk about link shorteners.  Links can take up valuable real estate in a tweet, and the shorter they are, the better.  I’m lucky enough not to have to worry about it – our company’s dedication to social media included unique URLs that can be shortened so that all that appears in the tweet is www.wral.com/{unique story ID number here} .  Talk to your online division to see if you have anything similar.

If you don’t, this is the argument for using a management website such as HootSuite or TweetDeck for your interface.  Both have link shorteners built into their tweet page – just copy, paste, click “shorten” and voila – an owl.ly or a bit.ly link takes the place of the mumbo jumbo you started with.
Step Seven: Live Tweet something

Next time you have breaking news, start live tweeting it.  If you can, use a hash tag that makes it obvious you’re local, such as #ncwx  or #RaleighTraffic.  Each situation calls for a different approach, but here are a few I’ve found to be most common:

In a weather situation, send out updates on where the storm is, who needs to watch out, and when viewers share, retweet their descriptions and images!  Put out the all-call on the broadcast for people to send information via Facebook and Twitter, then use that information liberally (once it’s confirmed!).  I would also recommend reminding people to do so WHEN IT IS SAFE.  You’d be surprised what some people will do to get their 10 seconds of cell phone video on TV.

For a developing situation, a verdict being read in court, anything with background or multiple layers, try to keep the tweets coming.  You don’t have to send an update every 30 seconds, but as developments come into the newsroom and get confirmed, send ’em out.  Keep your writing to a headline-style – it’s easier for people to see that you’re in “news” mode.  Have your station’s hash tag on things where you can, and always wrap it up with a recap, a drive to the full story, and if possible, what you’ll have on TV in your next newscast.  An example:

Jury finds Jason Young guilty of first-degree murder in death of pregnant wife #YoungTrial
Young convicted of beating his pregnant wife, Michelle, to death in their Wake County home in Nov 2006, leaving 2 yr old daughter at scene
Young could face death penalty, sentencing phase starts after lunch recess #YoungTrial
Young’s mother crying in courtroom as judge polls jurors on murder conviction #YoungTrial
Jury convicts Jason Young of murdering his wife. Full recap on @WRAL.com,  Amanda Lamb talks live to his wife’s sister @ 5p on @wral

If there’s a bad accident, tweet the crash then the detour route.  If there’s a big announcement, tweet the highlights.  In most scenarios, be sure to take the time to sound a little more human when you send these out.  If your news copy would say “breaking news in West Raleigh where an accident involving a tractor trailer and two cars has blocked Hillsborough street” then the tweets should say:
Wreck blocking eastbound Hillsborough Street at Dan Allen Drive – avoid the area for a half hour or so.
If you need to miss the Hillsborough/Dan Allen trouble spot, try 440 to Western Blvd, turn rt on Pullen to get back on track
Tractor trailer rolled over a car on Hillsborough Street, and everyone survived – check the pics on
wral.com (put a real link here to the pictures instead of a generic website tease if you can)

Overall, live tweeting an event is the fastest way to get your news chops out there and have people recognize you as a conduit to the TV news.  This usually ends in new followers and builds your personal online brand as a go-to person for news in your area.  Which leads me to my last step:

Step Eight: I’m gleaning info – now what?

Twitter can be a veritable gold mine of information, story ideas, tips, and filler stories.  However, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the challenges of what to do with that information.

First, do not report anything that comes from Twitter as fact!  Treat it as scanner traffic or something you got from a dispatcher.  Best case scenario, in the case of viewer pictures of weather or car accidents, be SURE to say in your copy “We received this picture from a viewer via Twitter- they say this is the scene right now in blah-blah-blah.”  It doesn’t absolve you from legal responsibility, but it does protect you in some cases.  Otherwise, treat it as background knowledge that you can use for questioning authorities but do not run with it to air unless you have a second source.

There’s really only one exception to that rule: authorized, official Twitter accounts.  I mentioned above that our state’s Governor has a Twitter account.  So do both of our state Senators.  We have had the discussion as a station, and decided to consider anything tweeted on those accounts to be official statements from those offices, we just write it into the script that instead of issuing a statement, the officials tweeted.  So in the midst of the Rep. Todd Akin controversy, even though we never received a press release with the statement, I had a script in my 5pm newscast that read:

North Carolina’s Senior Senator has joined a growing number of Republicans calling for Rep. Todd Akin to remove himself from the Missouri Senate race.  This afternoon, Senator Richard Burr tweeted: “Congressman Akin’s comments were offensive, outrageous, & wrong. I urge him to do the right thing & withdraw from MO Senate race now.

Neat, eh?

This new community is also ripe for helping reporters find story contacts – just tweet what you need!  Or for getting an idea what they think is news-worthy.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent the tweet “slow morning meeting today – anybody got a story idea for me?”  People are usually quick to respond, but I don’t recommend sending that one out until you have a significant following.  Finally, your newsroom management may be on board with the idea of social media, but when you make the argument “This is trending on Twitter” or “It’s hot online, tomorrow it’ll be old news,” you may get some strange looks, or even pshaw’d at times.  It happens to all of us.  Keep trying to make your case.  Eventually, you’ll break a story or build up enough times when you were right that they will start to listen.  Cut them a break – chances are you were a bit of a Luddite too before you started this process.

            There you have it – a brief overview of what I’ve done over the last few years to cultivate the community of followers and leads that I have on Twitter.  It’s a community that has brought me story ideas, direct tips, interviews, and ideas from seeing what other people are talking about.  It has given me that extra story to fill the 5 o’clock news, or a glimpse into what’s going viral so we can be on the front edge of the wave and show it to you now, instead of tomorrow when it feels old.  It’s a place for an exchange of ideas that will help you think a little faster the next time you need a plan C for a story that falls through.  It’s how playing on the Internet can actually make you a better producer, if you put in the work.  I’m @sbeckwral – let me know if you see results.


Stephanie Beck is a producer at WRAL in Raleigh. Has been there since 2001.  She spends her free time traveling to dance West Coast Swing (like in her Twitter profile picture) with her boyfriend and watching Dr. Who and anything Sorkin.  Stephanie has been known to contribute to the number of cat photos on the net, but Calypso and Fritz do not have their own accounts.  She attended UNC for BA and MA. She is always looking for the next way to engage her audience. Stephanie is one of the most followed local TV news producers on Twitter.

Last week, many TV news watch groups tweeted an article about an ND being criticized and then apologizingfor something he wrote on his personal Facebook page.  Now he has resigned.

The facts of the case itself are compelling, but let’s go beyond to the larger issue.  This is a personal FB page.  This is the leader of a newsroom being criticized.  Again, it points to the fact that in some newsrooms management itself is not clear on what is or is not acceptable online.  If an ND didn’t think twice about these comments on his personal FB page, can he expect the same of his staff?

This reminds us, how very public the internet is.  Many of us think our FB pages are being read by friends only.  In actuality, the internet is extremely voyeuristic.  People love to read what others have to say, even if they don’t know them.  It’s is a large part of the appeal.  Not everyone is simply curious.  Some have axes to grind.  Remember: (a) Journalists are not always held in high regard and therefore are scrutinized more and (B) Journalists are sometimes held in very high regard but not given opportunities by the public to make “honest mistakes.”  We are expert communicators right?

The other interesting element is that the news director says he did not realize how “poor the choice of words were.”  Remember, opinions can put you in hot water.  This is especially true if you are a journalist who is expected to “know better.”

Finally, this story makes you stop and think about social media policies within companies.  Many still do not have one.  That actually makes it easier for journalists to face a backlash even for their non-work sites.  What’s happening with this ND is a good scenario to bring up to your bosses and ask how a situation like that would be handled where you work.  It might offer new insight into management’s views on internet use, period.  After all, media companies are reading about the criticism of this ND’s comments on his personal FB page.  It could serve as an example to help mold future policies all of us must live with.

Journalists from all over recently got to see the social media policy for NBC owned stations.  Immediately after an article on TVNewsCheck was posted outlining the policies, journalists and legal experts began tweeting, many calling the policy ridiculous.  No doubt, it is strict.  According to the article, you have to state that you are an employee of NBC Universal on every social media site you use, even private ones.  You also have to get approval from management if you want to express an opinion about any issue, on any of your sites.  Yes, this includes personal accounts.  Any facts should be verified before retweeting someone else’s comments.  All of these points are worth discussion.  There’s already plenty of talk about it online.  But one part really struck me.  An ombudsman for the station group stated that when posting online, there is a tendency to “be more flip.”  Anything you post, you should also be ready to broadcast.  His statement is a reminder that what you say or do online is out there for everyone to see.  It reminds me of what a couple of mentors used to say, “If you do the news, you don’t get the option to be truly anonymous.”

That advice is certainly true, and as Chef Emeril Lagasse would say, “Let’s kick it up another notch!”  What you say online can be seen by more people, than things you say even out in public.  Over the last year I have watched many journalists make comments online that surprise me.  I saw a tweet from a reporter claiming a company she hired for a home repair “stinks” and is a “rip off.”  She named the company, then stated you should never hire this company.  A producer tweeted about a story in one of the station’s newscasts, stating that he doubted a business owner’s claims that a piece of equipment that failed had recently been inspected and passed.   An anchor posted video on Facebook of another anchor shooting the bird and chiding her.  A photojournalist mentioned on Facebook that he thought someone accused of a crime was “guilty as hell” weeks before the trial even started.  The list goes on and on.  And in many of those cases, their Twitter accounts specified exactly where they worked.  Like it or not, that means their comments could be construed as speaking on behalf of those companies.

We all have a right to opinions.  We all have a right to blow off steam.  We all have a right to talk with our friends about things we love and things that bug us.  But participating in social media is more public than going to a restaurant or bar and living it up one night.  There is a far greater chance of getting caught doing something your station will not approve of.  Yes, again some of these social media policies are overly harsh, and possibly would not ”hold up.”  But consider your paycheck, do you want to try and fight it?  I can read all kinds of articles on why these social media policies are ridiculous, but is enough written about how to gauge your influence on social media as a journalist?

Let’s spell it out.  Your comments on social media are published representations of you.  Do not forget, with each post, you are potentially giving a worldwide audience access.  If you have a bad day and go off, those comments could come back to bite.  That can be the case even if you do a mea culpa, and even if you delete the post realizing you temporarily lost your mind and did something pretty stupid.  As journalists we understand how permanent publishing something truly is.  Yet, so many journalists are posting things online that we would not dare write down on paper.  By typing your thoughts out, instead of just speaking them, you create a permanent record.  It is much harder to pull off a “he said, she said” type of defense.  If you ever are sued, how you act on social media accounts could be brought up to question your credibility.

The point here is not to preach, but to protect.  Social media is such an incredible opportunity for journalists to connect with their audience and each other.  Let common sense prevail.  That way it won’t matter if your station’s social media policy is strict.  You will always showcase yourself in a positive, proactive and professional light.


For the past year I have noticed more “buzz” about journalists’ potential pitfalls when using social media, especially when it comes to liability risk, whether your station could claim your personal sites actually have professional implications, and if you have copyright or trademark rights to the material you post.   This leads to debates about whether to use your actual name on a personal account, say what station you work for, even list your job title.  You need to be very careful when using anything that could potentially be claimed as “station owned.”  If you state on your personal account that you are a journalist and work at a particular station, you could run into issues.  Some could argue you are still acting as a representative for that station.  Agents are starting to promote that they can guide journalists on what to do to keep the boss from giving you trouble over what you say and do online.  Broadcasting and newspaper companies are coming up with social media policies for journalists (see this public list).  One interesting lawsuit is raising issues about who should get access to journalists’ social media accounts, including followers. The case involves a former editor’s Twitter account with Phonedog.  (Here are two interesting articles for background.  First from USA Today titled “Ex-employee sued over keeping Twitter account”, and Knight Digital Media Center blog’s analysis “Lawsuit to watch:  Who owns journalist’s social media accounts?”).  This is just the beginning.  We journalists have no real precedent to lean on to keep ourselves out of hot water.  Meanwhile, media companies are urging us to get online, in many cases daily, with blogs, FB pages and Twitter accounts.  Then there’s the crucial need to network and market ourselves personally.  Finally, you can gather a lot of news and source build online.  It’s easy and effective:  But at what potential cost?  Not only is using social media a type of “print”  it can be seen by far more sources than you may realize and basic codes of ethics may not always work.  If all of this seems overwhelming and a little scary, you are not alone.  Recently I, Beth Johnson, the founder of Survivetvnewsjobs.com, have started collaborating with a prominent first amendment and media law attorney, Cynthia Counts (Here’s a list of high profile cases she’s been involved with and her appearances on TV), to discuss what legal risks journalists face when using social media.  Our conversations are fascinating.  Bottom line, a lot is up in the air.  Journalists are charting a new frontier without a map. That’s why we are committed to bringing you a series of articles to help wade through.  Consider this article a cornerstone for what is to come.  We begin by showing you the basic things you need to consider when using social media for personal reasons.

  • Read and understand “terms of use” policies
  • Know that trademark, copyright, privacy and libel laws do apply
  • Consider what statements of opinion are, since they could subject you to liability
  • Be sure you clearly define your relationship to each audience

First, here are some links you need to bookmark:  Twitter’s terms of service , trademark and copyright policies. For Facebook, see the pages terms, statement of rights, trademark policy and copyright policy.  Why so many links?  These connect you to the legal terms you are agreeing to each time you post on the site. Counts says not only is it important to look at who has the rights to your posts, but also whether social media sites are given a license to display your tweets and posts simply because you use the site.  With that in mind, these policies can be quite interesting.  For example, under Twitter’s Terms of Service, section 5, “Your Rights” it states:  “You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”  Then Twitter helps you out, by offering this highlighted tip, “This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.

Could this cause serious implications for you?  Consider retweets.  The Twitter policy states“You are responsible for your use of the Services, for any Content you provide, and for any consequences thereof, including the use of your Content by other users and our third party partners. You understand that your Content may be syndicated, broadcast, distributed, or published by our partners and if you do not have the right to submit Content for such use, it may subject you to liability… You represent and warrant that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein to any Content that you submit.”  The takeaway here, according to Counts, is because you are technically publishing information with your Twitter account, you need to consider personal liability. Generally, journalists can be held liable for any statements they repeat, even if they are simply quoting a source. The Communications Decency Act, however, likely provides an exception for retweets of content created by a third party.  But if you ever modify someone’s tweets and end up changing the meaning, or modify to add your opinion, you could potentially put yourself at risk of liability. (We will delve more into potential risks and defenses to protect you in another article.).  Now Facebook:  First, you need to be very clear that you are not infringing on copyrights. FB has access to your stuff, so more people can see your content than you may realize.  This is explained in FB’s Statement of Rights section 2, Sharing Your Content and Information, “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:  For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”  Importantly, if you make a fact error and erase it, a third party, possibly not even directly connected with you on FB could still gain access to that printed mistake.  This section delves more into how far-reaching your content can go, beyond your control:  “When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).” So FB can distribute your content all over the place, and you are liable if there’s a problem.  Because FB has widespread reach, the potential damages if there is a copyright or liability problem can be greater.

Twitter and Facebook also have copyright and trademark policies.  Both make mention of potential copyright issues with photos.  Think about your personal social media accounts. Do you use any kind of headshot?  Do you have the station and/or photographer’s permission?  Many people use their station’s call letters in their profiles on their various social media accounts.  Could these references lead to trademark issues?   Let’s delve into that idea a bit more.

Counts says where you work is a statement of fact.  Your job description is as well.  So, using them in your profiles are not copyright or trademark issues.  But, she says you need to look at the user agreements. When you do, statement of fact is not as clear cut of an argument.  For example: Twitter goes so far as to spell out how to set up an account that is more personal in nature in its Trademark Policy:  “ An account’s profile information should make it clear that the account is not actually the company or business entity that is the subject of the news feed/commentary/fan account.   Here are some suggestions for distinguishing your account:

Username: The username should not be the trademarked name of the subject of the news feed, commentary, or fan account.

Name: The profile name should not be the trademarked name of the company or include the trademarked name in a misleading manner.

Bio: The bio should include a statement to distinguish it from the real company, such as “Unofficial Account,” “Fan Account,” or “Not affiliated with…”

Background image / Avatar: The account should not use another’s trademark, logo or other copyright-protected image without express permission.

Communication with other users: The account should not, through private or public communication with other users, try to deceive or mislead others about your identity.

How about Facebook?  It allows companies to register trademarks to protect themselves.  Again, in its Facebook Pages Terms, FB recommends having express permission to use logos and/or photographs because of possible copyright infringement:  “All covers are public. This means that anyone who visits your Page will be able to see your cover. Covers can’t be deceptive, misleading, or infringe on anyone else’s copyright. You may not encourage people to upload your cover to their personal timelines.”  In other words, do not use head shots taken by your station unless you have a written license saying you are allowed to publish these images for your personal use.

So, it may not be a trademark or copyright issue to use your station’s call letters, but Twitter and FB’s written policies certainly seem to muddy the water a bit.  Really look over Twitter and Facebook’s policies to make sure any references to or use of material from the station complies. Also read up on what recently happened between Barrett Tryon, a multimedia journalist formerly with the Colorado Springs Gazette, and the newspaper’s parent company, Freedom Communications.  Tryon posted a link on his Facebook timeline to a Los Angeles Times article about the sale of Freedom Communications.  Tryon says the, Gazette told him to remove the post on his personal FB page, citing the station’s social media policy. This article on JimRomenesko.com shows the post by Tryon. If you want to see Freedom Communications’ social media policy, check out this article from Poynter, “New social media rules for Freedom Communications staff.”  (This case is far from clear cut and raises a lot of other issues about journalist’s rights that we also will delve more into.) Tryon ended up resigning and explains why in this article by American Journalism Review.

If this case makes you wonder about your own personal account, here are some key points Counts suggests you consider.

  • Understand your employers social media policy (whether those policies are fair or could stand up in court, like the ongoing debate over the Colorado Springs Gazette’s actions, is another matter we will look into this more later.)
  • Limit followers to close friends and families, ideally not connected to your work in any way.  You may even want to consider using a different name.
  • Refrain from making comments about your work and focus on personal things, instead.
  • Remember that deleting content may not be enough to remove it from cyberspace if other users have not deleted it as well.

The point is you don’t want your employer to be able to argue you were acting as an agent for the station on that particular account.  By focusing on personal things when you post, limiting followers and avoiding talking about your station or showing images from your station, you are creating relationships with followers that clearly show the people who visit your social media accounts do so to stay in touch with you.  They are not following you to monitor your work at the station.  Following these tips should help you keep your personal life truly personal in the social media world with little risk of your employer trying to use what you say or do against you. 

Now you have some reference points as you dive into this new frontier.  Experts in the law including Attorney Cynthia Counts and I will continue adding to your map as we all chart this largely unclaimed new world.  In fact, there is a new section on Survivetvnewsjobs.com called “Social Media Awareness” to inform you of cases, potential pitfalls and defenses to protect you.  Stay tuned!


Cynthia Counts is the founder of the Counts Law Group.  She has a well-regarded first amendment practice and represents numerous print media and broadcast clients. Her areas of expertise include libel, privacy, contracts, product liability, and employment discrimination.


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