Retweet or retreat?

Twitter birdsOne of your Twitter followers posts that the mayor will call it quits tomorrow.

Your social media gut says share the information with a dose of skepticism and see if anyone can corroborate it. Your journalistic head says don’t touch it — you don’t know where it’s been.

The issue of whether journalists should forward information they find in social networks without verifying it cuts to what has traditionally been a core principle of journalism: we publish true things only.

But does retweeting constitute “publishing” as we’ve traditionally defined it?  News organizations such as the LA Times and the Associated Press say it does — and journalists should apply the same standards as they would with any story. Others such as Reuters and the BBC suggest retweets constitute a process of journalism, not an end product.

I’ve been working with three colleagues on the Canadian Association of Journalists Ethics Committee over the past couple of months to prepare a draft of guidelines for retweeting or forwarding information found in social networks. We conclude that journalists can gain a lot by participating in real-time social networks. But if they retweet, they should apply a checklist of questions about sourcing and aim for transparency about what they know — and don’t know.

The draft will be discussed Friday, May 28, 2010 at the CAJ conference in Montreal. Take a look and tell us what you think.

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