Social Media 1.0: Many Student Press Outlets Still Getting Used to ‘Living Social’

Should our student reporters be allowed to respond to online comments about their stories?  Should the tone of our Twitter feed be uber-serious and objective or opinionated and even a bit snarky?  What should the blog affiliated with our outlet actually feature and how often should it be updated?  And should we spread our staff responsibilities over Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Google+ or focus on rousing our readers on just one?  And who should be given the power to update on one or more of those platforms?  And when?  And how often?  And with what type of oversight?

Many student press outlets are still wrestling with those questions– and with them the larger question of how exactly to approach and blend social media into their existing structures and responsibilities.

As I told Nick Dean for his piece “Living Social” that just premiered online within the latest Student Press Law Center Report, “The student press is still fully ensconced in social media 1.0, with very few exceptions.  A majority of college news outlets are simply establishing their social media presence or working on building up that presence beyond a few followers and fans and defining what they want their social media outlook to be.”   (Yes, I’m quoting myself.) :)

Amid this construction and stabs at a basic definition, actual guidelines on how social media should be used are mostly absent or have so far gone unwritten by student newspaper’s editorial boards.  For example, as Dean notes, one of the biggest social media gray areas within the campus press involves student journalists’ personal accounts on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and their outside work on their own blogs.

It is an issue Rebecca Walker, North Alabama University’s student publications coordinator, has seen firsthand, prompting her to work with the campus newspaper editor to draft a “student produced, student approved” social media policy that went into effect this fall.

In her words: “We saw that students [on the school paper] had a little bit of trouble separating their online identity from how we expect them to behave publicly.  They shared opinions on things they were covering, used [foul] language and presented themselves unprofessionally online.”

The Northern Star’s policy at Northern Illinois University asks staffers to think about their presence on the open web like their behavior in public.  Among other suggestions, staff are advised to avoid making statements of political allegiance or offering viewpoints on “polarizing issues” on web platforms that are easily viewable by tons of “followers” or “friends.”

Bottom line, as a portion of the Star policy notes, “The Northern Star cannot dictate how its employees use social media websites on their personal time.  You have a First Amendment right to free expression.  However, as an employee of a news media organization, you have some unique challenges.  Like it or not, you represent the Northern Star at all times.”

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