Report or Comment? When a Journalist Retweets, it’s Hard to Tell

by Dan Ward

I returned from a meeting this afternoon and saw this in my twitter feed:

“@JebBush a flip-flop-flip on immigration? Wow. I fashioned you more of a baseball player than a gymnast. My bad. #notsurprisedatall”

The tweet was authored by Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, so the partisan tone is to be expected.

But I don’t follow Rep. Wasserman-Shultz. I saw her message because it was retweeted with no additional comment by Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, who I do follow.

Now, if you read Smith’s twitter profile, you will see the message, “Retweets are not endorsements,” but that is only clear if you take it upon yourself to look at his profile. My first thought upon seeing the tweet was, “wow, that’s quite a partisan message for an objective journalist to forward on to his followers.”

Based on the disclaimer in Smith’s profile, I understand that he retweets comments as part of his journalistic responsibility to share information, rather than as endorsements, but I do wonder whether a disclaimer on a profile goes far enough.

Is it my responsibility as a follower to determine whether I’m looking at a report rather than an editorial comment, or is it the responsibility of the reporter/editor to ensure his followers know the difference?

13 Responses to Report or Comment? When a Journalist Retweets, it’s Hard to Tell

  1. Kim Taylor says:

    Adam Smith could take a note out of the AP’s Social Media Policy which spells out this scenario pretty clearly:

    RETWEETING
    Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying.

    Examples of retweets that can cause problems:
    1. RT @jonescampaign: smith’s policies would destroy our schools
    2. RT @dailyeuropean: at last, a euro plan that works

    These kinds of unadorned retweets must be avoided.

    However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Introductory words, colons and quote marks help make the distinction:

    Examples:
    1. Jones campaign now denouncing Smith on education. RT @jonescampaign: smith’s policies would destroy our schools
    2. Big European paper praises euro plan. RT @dailyeuropean: at last, a euro plan that works

    These cautions apply even if you say on your Twitter profile that retweets do not constitute endorsements. Many people who see your tweets and retweets will never look at your Twitter bio.

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