A new social-media policy at the Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that “adversely affects The Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners.” In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action “up to and including termination of employment.”
The Post‘s Guild sent out a bulletin Sunday night protesting the policy. “If you’re like most of us, you probably acknowledged its receipt without reading it,” says the note, which was written by Guild co-chair Fredrick Kunkle. “But what you don’t know could hurt you.”
The guild wants to jettison other parts of the policy, which the Post confirms to Washingtonian went into effect on May 1 and applies to the entire company:
- A provision that prohibits employees from “Disparaging the products and services of The Post’s advertisers, subscribers, competitors, business partners or vendors.”
- A demand that employees “Refrain from using social media while on your work time, unless using Social Media is an authorized part of your job.”
- A clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: “If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post’s Social Media Policy … you should contact the Post’s Human Resources Department.”
The Post “assures us that no one would get in trouble for such social media activity,” Kunkle writes in the update, which is titled “The Post’s Social Media Mayhem.” He continues: “But that’s the way the policy is written.” The Post declined to comment on the policy to Washingtonian.
On May 30, perhaps not coincidentally just after a Denver Post journalist was fired after sending a racist tweet, Post employees received an email from deputy managing editor Tracy Grant that took “an opportunity to remind people of their obligations under the newsroom’s social media policy.” The policy with which many in the newsroom are familiar dates back to September 2011 and looks it—journalists are warned not to “place tokens, badges or virtual gifts from political or partisan causes on pages or sites,” for instance.
It is, in other words, a guideline. That’s the form news organizations’ social media policies often take–“Don’t write or post anything that would embarrass the LAT or compromise your ability to do your job” reads a vintage Los Angeles Times policy. The New York Times‘ policy is likewise guideline-y: Remember that what you do is public, and that “your online behavior should be appropriate for a Times journalist,” Philip B. Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards put it in 2012. (In an email, Corbett writes those are “still the operative principles.” Neither policy mentions advertisers or consequences for people who stray from the rules.)
In fact, for a once-internet-agnostic organization that has since become a pageview powerhouse, the Post‘s insistence on separating social media activity from the rest of employee conduct feels oddly fuddy-duddyish. (I thought it might be instructive to see what the social media policy is like at Amazon, which like the Post is owned by Jeff Bezos. The retailer has yet to respond to an request to read any such policy if it exists.)
The Guild says it became aware of the new policy on April 25 and is trying to remove these provisions from the policy as it pursues a new labor agreement with Post management, Kunkle tells Washingtonian. The Guild’s current agreement with the Post expired on June 10, and Kunkle says they’ve had about five meetings so far.