Los Angeles Times Social Media Guidelines


Attached please find guidelines from the Standards and Practices group on using social media. It applies to anyone-that's print, Web, reporter, editor, photographer, blogger, producer, designer, whatever your job-who works in or on Editorial. Even if you aren't using these tools yet, you might want to some day, so please familiarize yourself with the standards.

This is another in a series of guidelines crafted to help all of us navigate the new world of covering the news. The methods may change, but our standards stay the same. This and policies on moderating reader comments, using photos online, corrections and obscenity issues can always be found on the Library intranet at http://news.latimes.com/cgi-bin/frame_set.cgi?name=policy. You'll also find the complete Ethics Guidelines, drafted in 2006 and still in force.

Also, we'll offer training next month on using Facebook, Twitter and all the rest, and Andrew Nystrom will lay out The Times' strategy on social media.

Thank you,

-- Melissa McCoy, Deputy Managing Editor

Social media networks -- Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others -- provide useful reporting and promotional tools for Los Angeles Times journalists. The LAT's Ethics Guidelines** will largely cover most issues that arise when using social media, but this brief document should provide additional guidance on specific questions.

  • Assume that your professional life and your personal life merge online regardless of your care in separating them. Don't write or post anything that would embarrass the LAT or compromise your ability to do your job.
  • Assume that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public and knowable to everyone with access to a computer.
  • You must identify yourself as an LAT employee online if you would do so in a similar situation offline. Make sure that people you are communicating with understand how you plan to use the information.
  • Interview sources by phone or in person, when possible, after collecting information online.
  • Do not engage in political advocacy. Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are verboten in the offline world for LAT editorial employees, so too are partisan expressions in the online world.
  • Be aware of perceptions. If you “friend” a source or join a group on one side of a debate, “friend” or join those on the other side as well. Also understand that readers may view your “participation” in a group as your acceptance of its views; be clear that you're looking for story ideas or simply collecting information. Remember that it may not be clear who initiated the contact.
  • Use privacy tools where possible (who can view your page or profile, for instance), and consider that you can always be an observer to online content without becoming a member of a group. Still, keep in mind that there is no real privacy on the Internet. Assume everything can be made public.
  • Using social media sites in reporting means that you (and the content you exchange) are subject to their terms of service. This can have legal implications, including, but not limited to, the possibility that your interactions could be subject to a third-party subpoena. Any information might be turned over to law enforcement without your consent.

**This and policies on moderating reader comments, using photos online, corrections and obscenity issues can always be found on the Library intranet. You'll also find the complete Ethics Guidelines, drafted in 2006 and still in force.

Outside affiliations and community work Editorial employees may not use their positions at the paper to promote personal agendas or causes. Nor should they allow their outside activities to undermine the impartiality of Times coverage, in fact or appearance. Staff members may not engage in political advocacy — as members of a campaign or an organization specifically concerned with political change. Nor may they contribute money to a partisan campaign or candidate. No staff member may run for or accept appointment to any public office. Staff members should avoid public expressions or demonstrations of their political views — bumper stickers, lawn signs and the like.

While The Times does not seek to restrict staff members' participation in civic life or journalistic organizations, they should be aware that outside affiliations and memberships may create real or apparent ethical conflicts. When those affiliations have even the slightest potential to damage the newspaper's credibility, staff members should proceed with caution and take care to advise supervisors.

Some types of civic participation may be deemed inappropriate. An environmental writer, for instance, would be prohibited from affiliating with environmental organizations, a health writer from joining medical groups, a business editor from membership in certain trade or financial associations.

-- Standards and Practices Committee