Washington Post editor: no responding to critics on Twitter

What happens when a Post staffer uses the official Twitter account to lash out at a critic? A memo.

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Long story short

The Post is mad that a staffer used the official Twitter account to snap back at a critic

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TBD has not yet confirmed just which Twitter spat the memo from WaPo's Raju Narisetti is referencing. However, what is clear is that the circumstances described in the memo do align with a short series of tweets between GLAAD and the paper over a piece that ran in "On Faith" this week. The piece in question was penned by anti-gay activist Tony Perkins, who came up with some interesting theories on why gay teens get depressed.

GLAAD lashed out at the Post on Twitter, and the official Post account lashed back, saying that the paper was working "both sides" of the issue. It pointed out that it'd already had Dan Savage in a live chat, presumably exploring the anti-Perkins "side" of the discussion. GLAAD responded: "@WashingtonPost There are not "both sides" to this issue. Teen suicide isn't a debate-it's a tragedy. http://bit.ly/crX6q5 #LGBT "

A little editorializing here: The Narisetti memo below scolds the official Twitterer for engaging in a discussion about the coverage. OK, fine---if you're running the Post, you probably don't want a wild, wild west on Twitter in which all kinds of staffers are duking it out with the paper's detractors, of which there are many.

Yet in this case, the real problem appears to be 1) publishing the Perkins piece in the first place; it's full of a lot of speculation and not-exactly-scientific contentions about teen and gay behavior; 2) the "both sides" thing is not the most elegant reply, and GLAAD has a pretty strong point here.

So maybe, yes, engage the critics, just more intelligently. How to accomplish that across an enormous organization is a tough thing to pull off. Thus, the directive below.

Here's the official communique. 

From: Raju Narisetti
Sent: 10/15/2010 12:25 PM EDT
To: NEWS - All Newsroom@WashPostMain
Subject: Responding to readers via social media

This week, some Post staffers responded to outside critics via our main
Twitter account. At issue was a controversial piece we'd published online.
The intent in replying was to defend the decision to publish the piece, but
it was misguided both in describing our rationale for publishing the piece
and as a matter of practice. It shouldn't have been sent.

Even as we encourage everyone in the newsroom to embrace social media and relevant tools, it is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post branded accounts is to use them as a platform to promote news, bring in user generated content and increase audience engagement with Post content. No branded Post accounts should be used to answer critics and speak on behalf of the Post, just as you should follow our normal journalistic guidelines in not using your personal social media accounts to speak on behalf of the Post.

Perhaps it would be useful to think of the issue this way: when we write a
story, our readers are free to respond and we provide them a venue to do
so. We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once
we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor--and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It's something we don't do.

Please feel free to flag Marcus, Liz and me when you see something out
there that you think deserves a response from the Post. As we routinely do, we will work with Kris Coratti and her team to respond when appropriate.

Raju

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