"Although stricter policies are in place for journalists who directly cover topics like sports or culture," said Collins, "journalists who work outside of those departments can reasonably discuss their leisurely pursuits on social media." She said that staffers should ask themselves a couple of key questions before posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media app: "If readers see your post and notice that you're a Times journalist, would that affect their view of the Times's news coverage as fair and impartial?" And "could your post hamper your colleagues' ability to effectively do their jobs?"
If the answer to either of those is yes, she said, then it's best for journalists to just bite their tongue. (We reached out to a couple of current and former Times staffers, but they declined to speak on the record.)
"I am very concerned that the Times' dictum might come in response to pressure and criticism from the right," said Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Naturally, the Times won't say whether the new rules are, indeed, based on pressure from the right wing. But if that were the case, the paper would be making itself vulnerable. "In this age, it is more necessary than ever for journalists to connect with the publics they serve on a human level with direct communication, with empathy and with honesty. Journalists are not superhuman beings who have no opinions, no bias, no perspective, no worldview, no background."
When asked whether reporters should avoid sharing their personal opinions, be it on Trump or other matters, Jarvis said that this shouldn't have to be the case. "I believe that we as journalists need to be transparent about our worldviews and experience," he said. "Indeed, one of the reasons the conservative half of America does not trust news media is, I believe, because we were not honest about journalists being predominately liberal in our outlook. If they could not trust us to be open about that, then they came to believe they could not trust us about other things we report."
Jarvis said he does understand the Times' desire to be somewhat more prescriptive, particularly when it comes to reporters using social media to make consumer complaints. On Twitter, for instance, journalists are often verified. That means they can use their position to grab a company's attention faster than someone without a blue checkmark on their profile. Still, Jarvis said, "I feel for them, as I find that public discussion can be the best way to find consumer justice."
It will be interesting to see if more publications follow in The New York Times' footsteps. Not just in demanding that staffers be less opinionated on social media but also by making any revised guidelines public. Given the current state of affairs, wherein readers who agree with something may shout "fake news," it wouldn't be surprising if we see more news organizations change or be more transparent about their social media rules for staff members.