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Social Media Guidelines in Norwegian News Organisations

The next speaker at ECREA 2016 is Karoline Ihlebæk, whose focus is on social media regulations in Norwegian news organisations. These are related to questions of trust, legitimacy, and changing professional ideals: journalistic adoption of social media has at first been unregulated, but news organisations are now increasingly seeking to regulate this to fend off any potential negative implications. This is also a question of power within these organisations. Such power need not always be negative and restrictive, however: it may also be supportive and empowering for journalists.

The present study explores issues of scope, form, and content of these guidelines, then. It works with data from a survey of members of the Norwegian Association of Journalists (with a response rate of some 21%, equating to some 1,600 respondents), as well as with 14 qualitative interviews with editors at national and regional news organisations. The study also distinguished between professional staff in different journalistic and editorial roles.

The study found that some 30% of respondents answered that their organisations did not provide any written or oral guidelines; some 21% did not know whether they did. The remaining journalists outlined a number of areas covered by the guidelines: advice on what to post in their professional roles, advice on personal uses, advice on how to follow up on their own news stories via social media, on how to engage in dialogue with audience members, and advice on what journalistic content to post on social media.

Editors said that they strongly encouraged journalists to engage with social media; their attitudes to providing guidelines varied widely, however. Many felt that the most important need right now was to encourage journalists to use social media in the first place; they did not want to curtail such uses through guidelines, and were instead prepared with problems when they arose.

Those editors who had tried to develop guidelines (especially at public service media organisations NRK) felt that the impact and importance of such guidelines was somewhat limited, however, as uses remained in flux. Guidelines were largely ad hoc and dynamic, and subject to continuing discussion with staff. This is also a matter of trust: largely, editors trusted journalists to know to do the right thing.

Controversies with journalists did occur, however, and editors expressed concerns about the confusion between professional and personal roles on social media, and their impact on journalists' professional standing. This did not happen particularly often. Editors also expressed support for the view of journalists as citizens with important rights to free and open expression, in spite of (or in addition to) their professional roles.

Other editors expressed more commercial perspectives, and pointed to a difficult balancing act between journalists' and news organisations' priorities in these environments. Editors also felt that occasional problems arising for journalists from their social media activities would contribute to their learning about more effective ways of using social media. Editors were overall supportive of a learning by doing approach, indicating a self-regulatory form of power relations within these news organisations.