Enough with all the tweeting already!
That’s how I’d summarize The New York Times’ new guidelines on how its journalists use Twitter. This morning, in a series of memos from executive editor Dean Baquet and deputy managing editor Cliff Levy, the Times made it clear that it would like staffers to shoo away the little blue bird on their phones — or at least not feed it as often.
“I think if you take a look at some journalists,” Baquet told me this morning, “at The New York Times and elsewhere — how often they tweet, what they tweet, the importance of what they tweet, how much time they spend on it — you’ve got to ask yourself: If your role is to find out important facts and tell them to the world, is that the way you want to spend your day?”
As any Twitter user knows, there are lots of reasons to not be on Twitter. The Times’ argument seems to reduce down to a few points:
Twitter takes up too much of journalists’ time.
It warps their reporting by changing who they see as their audience and the feedback they get on their work.
It’s a major driver of harassment and abuse.
Bad tweets are a significant reputational threat to the Times and its staffers.
Translated into policy, this “reset” means that a social media presence “is now purely optional” for journalists. (It wasn’t mandatory before, but Baquet acknowledges that newsroom pressure to be on Twitter was real and significant.) Reporters can still be on Twitter, of course, but those who remain are encouraged “to meaningfully reduce how much time you’re spending on the platform, tweeting or scrolling, in relation to other parts of your job.”
The Times is also expanding its team of people devoted to protecting its journalists from abuse online (a group it calls the Threat Response Team) and investing further in security training and mental health resources.
Beyond that, today’s announcements are less about instituting new policies than reemphasizing some existing ones. Reporters should “strengthen our commitment to treating information [on Twitter] with the journalistic skepticism that we would any source, story or critic.” And every tweet “needs to reflect the values of The Times and be consistent with our editorial standards, social media guidelines and behavioral norms.”
“This is not an attack on Twitter,” Baquet said. “Twitter has tremendous value. We have readers there, we have people we want to hear. I thought it became outsized in its influence. I thought that some journalists were, you know, looking to Twitter for validation of their coverage. And I think that gave Twitter more power than, frankly, it deserved.”
Our interview, which is transcribed below, went in some interesting directions. I can visualize a lot of people nodding along when he criticizes Twitter’s all-consuming nature for some reporters and the idea that its influence has distorted some journalism in unfortunate ways. But I can also imagine many arguing that he understates the value — the necessity — of Twitter to many beats. (Will “I’m trying to be more thoughtful about how I engage online” be an acceptable answer when your editor asks why the Post and the Journal had a story and you didn’t?)
Others will argue that the feedback a reporter gets from Twitter users is far more diverse — ideologically, demographically — than what they get from reader emails or their sources. (Remember when the Times argued one reason it was fine to kill off its Public Editor position was that Twitter would fill any resulting complaint gaps?)
I appreciate the flexibility that these new guidelines offer. Reporters who were dragged kicking and screaming to Twitter can now leave without thinking their online silence will show up on their performance review. But a lot of journalists really like being on Twitter, and they don’t see their accounts as just another pipe through which their employer’s journalism can flow. That tension remains eternal.
There’s a lot in these memos, so I’m embedding the text of each below. (Double-click on any of them to expand to the complete text.) After that, my interview with Baquet, lightly edited for clarity.
Dean Baquet’s memo to Times newsroom staff
For some time, I’ve been hearing serious concerns from newsroom colleagues about the challenges that Twitter presents.
We can rely too much on Twitter as a reporting or feedback tool — which is especially harmful to our journalism when our feeds become echo chambers. We can be overly focused on how Twitter will react to our work, to the detriment of our mission and independence. We can make off-the-cuff responses that damage our journalistic reputations. And for too many of you, your experience of Twitter is shaped by harassment and attacks.
It’s clear we need to reset our stance on Twitter for the newsroom. So we’re making some changes.
First, maintaining a presence on Twitter and other social media is now purely optional for Times journalists. In fact, after speaking to dozens of you, it is clear to us that there are many reasons you might want to step away, and we’ll support anyone who decides to do so. If you do choose to stay on, we encourage you to meaningfully reduce how much time you’re spending on the platform, tweeting or scrolling, in relation to other parts of your job.
We also all need to strengthen our commitment to treating information there with the journalistic skepticism that we would any source, story, or critic. It should be only one input out of many for reporting, listening to feedback and gaining understanding of any story or issue.
Second, we’re announcing a major new initiative to support journalists who experience online threats or harassment. We take these attacks extremely seriously, and we know just how much this abuse affects our colleagues’ well-being, sense of safety and ability to do their jobs. We have a dedicated team to support Times journalists, and we’re rolling out new training and tools to help prevent and respond to online abuse. This is an industry-wide scourge, but we are determined to take action. We’ll be providing more details today.
Third, I want to emphasize that your work on social media needs to reflect the values of The Times and be consistent with our editorial standards, social media guidelines and behavioral norms. In particular, tweets or subtweets that attack, criticize or undermine the work of your colleagues are not allowed. Doing so undercuts the reputation of The Times as well as our efforts to foster a culture of inclusion and trust.
Masthead editors, department heads and our Standards department will pay close attention to how all Times journalists use social media to ensure it is in line with our social media guidelines.
I know that Twitter can play a helpful role, whether it’s aiding in reporting on breaking news, on specific beats or gauging feedback. It’s also been critical in highlighting the concerns of underrepresented groups. And I recognize that in the past, we’ve strongly urged you to use it to get our journalism in front of more people, engage with readers and uncover stories.
This is a complicated topic, and our views have evolved considerably over the last several years. I’m sure they’ll continue to. I want to be clear that we’re here to support you. That might mean offering guidance and protection against harassment; working with our audience team to responsibly promote stories online; or simply offering encouragement if you do decide to step away from social media.
You’ll likely have questions on this, so we’ve developed an FAQ with the main points from our social media policy and these updates.
I encourage you to come talk to me or other masthead leaders about this if you have concerns. We can all use this moment to reflect on our newsroom’s culture — both online and in person — and how we can help shape it.
An FAQ distributed to newsroom staff
We have been hearing about Twitter for some time now from colleagues across the newsroom. Some colleagues believe that we rely too much on Twitter as a reporting or feedback tool and that we focus too much on how people on Twitter might react to our journalism. Others have been subjected to intensely personal attacks or harassment on the platform. There is also growing concern about improper tweets that damage our journalistic reputation.
As a result, we felt it was a good time to reset our stance on Twitter and clarify expectations.
This largely refers to Twitter. What about other social platforms?
No matter what platform you’re on, you should always represent The Times’s values and defend and uphold our independence. We know that some of you have public, verified accounts on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and TikTok. Whether public or private, we expect you to demonstrate the same judgment and respect that we’re asking you to demonstrate on Twitter. But we’ve heard the most concerns about Twitter from the newsroom, and that’s why we’re addressing it first.
What does “meaningfully reduce” mean? Can I still be on Twitter at all, and will you be counting my posts?
You can still be on Twitter, if you choose to be. This isn’t about setting quotas or limits. But we do want Times journalists to take a measured approach to engagement on the platform and use their best judgment about how much time they’re spending there in relation to the time that they’re spending on other parts of your job. Unlike in the past, we’re encouraging anyone who wants to step away from social media to do so.
Twitter is important to my beat. What does this mean for me?
We know that Twitter can be an important and useful reporting tool, especially for breaking news. You should use it as a source whenever appropriate, especially if Twitter plays a major role in your beat or the issues you’re covering. But it should rarely, if ever, be your primary reporting focus. We want to ensure that all Times journalists treat information on Twitter with the journalistic skepticism that we bring to any source, story or critic. If it’s a helpful input to covering your beat, please continue to use it as one out of many for your reporting.
I’ve always thought of Twitter as a way to increase my visibility. What does this mean for me now?
You can still be on Twitter, and this new guidance should not affect your ability to reach a wide audience on the platform. The Times’s social team will continue to support the work of individual journalists on Twitter by consulting on promotional plans for stories, helping you write social copy and, when appropriate, amplifying your tweets. The social team will also continue to provide training on how to use Twitter effectively and avoid risks. Of course, the best way to increase your visibility is to produce compelling and important journalism on our own platform for the tens of millions of New York Times readers and subscribers who read us there.
We also pride ourselves on supporting Times journalists in expanding their visibility through other channels. We have approved to date well over 90 percent of the requests that we receive from our journalists to pursue independent projects, including books and movies. We also have a communications team dedicated to getting our journalists and their work visibility on television and other platforms. And we work closely with our journalists to produce in-house television programs, podcasts and much more that feature them and their stories.
What about the institutional accounts such as @nytimes?
We will continue to maintain and grow our @nytimes handle, which has 52 million followers and is an important way to amplify our journalism to a large, global audience. We’ll also continue to assess our institutional approach to Twitter, as we look to optimize how we distribute our journalism and engage with readers.
What constitutes criticizing, attacking or undermining colleagues’ work?
In recent years, we have seen more instances of Times journalists using Twitter to criticize the work of their colleagues, rather than addressing concerns directly or through internal channels. This often exacerbates criticism from outside The Times, and can stoke and legitimize harassment and online attacks.
We view criticism as anything that publicly undermines the reputation of The Times, and attacks as any uncollegial behavior that violates The Times’s standards, values and behaviors, especially including bullying or harassment that makes employees question the safety of our work environment.
If you are concerned that a tweet you may send might cross the line, it’s best to avoid sending it.
Of course, our stance on social media criticism is in no way meant to restrict our staff’s legal rights. Employees have important lawful rights to speak up about terms and conditions of employment or about the facts that are underlying claims of harassment and discrimination.
I’m facing escalating criticism on Twitter about a story I wrote. What should I do?
First, we want you to know that we have teams and resources to help you. And it’s important to distinguish criticism from harassment and highly personal attacks. These are made in bad faith and are intended to undermine our journalists and The Times.
If you are being attacked, harassed or threatened, please reach out immediately to security or a trusted editor — and you can always connect directly with María Salazar Ferro, the newsroom Security team lead. Our security team will contact you right away to assess risk, identify responses and make sure that you are safe. You should always lean toward reporting a situation, however minor you feel it may be. No one should ever feel threatened while doing work.
As wrenching as these moments are, responding directly can often make matters worse. Read this [report](https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__cpj.org_2017_01_cpj-2Dsafety-2Dadvisory-2Dtrolls-2Dand-2Donline-2Dabuse_&d=DwMFaQ&c=WO-RGvefibhHBZq3fL85hQ&r=i6-dXuqysi9-5wL0rLBCwQYQ6JoJTz_k8K0J5C8cIhM&m=1LM7gfOw_ak6_3F3B3vwWFrf_9PCfKlnZkwErOqSqIAABKzwqZvuQrbYjthfoTtZ&s=J5DvOeUrb7GEe-ALoYetOaOVSdpgSxAvlK7v2Y3m0kc&e=) from the Committee to Protect Journalists for more on why taking on trolls is a bad idea. If you do choose to respond, we strongly encourage you not to do so without first consulting with an editor. We also encourage you to reach out to Standards or the Audience team.
You should also let your supervisor or a close colleague know what has occurred. Support during these moments is crucial — and we are here to help. If you feel that you are in imminent physical danger, you should also immediately call 911 (or your country’s equivalent to 911, if you are outside of the U.S.)
The New York Times draws an intense spotlight. What we publish often elicits a strong reaction, including criticism, from our readers and the public. When it comes to thoughtful criticism of our work, we welcome feedback and are open to what others are saying. Take it constructively and put it in context. Make sure that we’re listening to a diversity of voices and not just responding to a pile on.
Don’t reporters need to be on Twitter to engage with readers?
We’re encouraging anyone who wants to step back to do so. As an institution, we will still engage with readers and monitor feedback on Twitter.
If you want to take a step back from Twitter, but still want to engage with readers, we have an increasing number of ways to do so on our own platforms.
We’ve opened comments on more stories and expanded our moderation team, and we will soon be launching an improved commenting platform that makes it easier for Times journalists to dip into comment threads and reply directly (we call this “reporter reply;”).
Many of you are already doing so, to the delight of our readers and subscribers. For those of you who choose to remain on Twitter, we offer training on how to use the platform more effectively. Reach out to Laurie Kawakami on the social team to learn more.
Sometimes I break news on Twitter. Is that bad?
You shouldn’t break news on Twitter unless you’re also including a link to our reporting.
In live and breaking news moments, Twitter can be a competitor to The Times. We have multiple live vehicles on our own platform for you to write a line or two of breaking news and publish. In rare instances, under the explicit guidance of a department head or masthead editor, you may be asked to break news on Twitter without linking to a story.
Does this guidance apply to non-newsroom employees?
This is guidance for newsroom employees. However, employees in other parts of the company should remember that how they engage on social media can reflect on our journalism and the work of your colleagues in the newsroom. We strongly encourage all Times employees to live up to the spirit of this guidance.
Cliff Levy’s newsroom memo on online safety
In recent years, our journalists have faced an alarming increase in online threats and abuse. Many involve blitzes of racist and misogynist attacks that target women journalists and journalists of color — and, at times, even their families.
These incidents can affect our colleagues’ well-being, sense of safety and ability to do their jobs. We want you to know that we take such threats extremely seriously, and stand with Times journalists who are being subjected to reprehensible attempts at intimidation online.
The Times has long provided extensive protection to our journalists working in war zones and on other risky assignments. Right now, numerous colleagues, supported by security personnel, are doing courageous reporting in Ukraine, taking significant risks to tell the world about the bloodshed and destruction there.
In recent years, we have been increasingly focusing on digital security as well, in recognition that the online world presents its own acute dangers.
And so even as Dean is announcing a reset in our newsroom’s approach to Twitter and other social media platforms, we are also stepping up our efforts to ensure that you are aware of the extensive digital safety resources and experts available to you. We are also eager for you to know about important new initiatives this year.
This work is based on a collaboration among experts across the company who have spoken to many colleagues in the newsroom, analyzing our current practices in an effort to continually improve the support that we provide.
For more information, we encourage you to visit our new digital safety hub, which has security resources, upcoming events and more.
The work of The Times’s Threat Response Team
The Threat Response Team is made up of experts from numerous departments across the company, including information security, international security, corporate security, legal and corporate communications.
The team, led by Jason Reich, our vice president for Corporate Security, is constantly monitoring the dark corners of the internet. Team members identify, analyze, triage, and respond to threats, abuse and harassment targeting our journalists.
In October 2021, we brought on María Salazar Ferro as our first director of newsroom safety and resilience. María joins the Threat Response Team from the Committee to Protect Journalists and has years of experience on the front lines of defending journalists.
Here are resources offered by the team and available to you right now:
Security and safety training: We educate our journalists on best practices to protect information online. This includes group training sessions and customized one-on-one support before events where there might be an increased risk.
24/7 monitoring: We have multiple teams searching for threats to our journalists across various sources, including social media and private forums. We are especially mindful of the digital threats facing our journalists abroad.
Escalating: We regularly alert social media platforms and law enforcement agencies about credible threats to our journalists and their families, and help coordinate the response.
Security tools and resources: We offer numerous security tools for our journalists, including programs to remove personal information from search engines and to lock down social media accounts.
Reputation management: We manage media queries, promote our journalism and journalists, and can advise on SEO matters, Wikipedia bio issues and more.
New initiatives that we’re bringing to you this year:
Newsroom-specific onboarding for journalists joining The Times.
Mandatory safety and security training for editors.
Desk-specific training and resources ahead of high-risk events.
Expanded mental health resources and support.
You should contact security to report a security concern, ask a question, request training, and reach the Threat Response Team for immediate assistance.
We are hopeful that our initiative to combat online threats and abuse against Times journalists can contribute to the work being done by other organizations for the betterment of our industry.
Worldwide, record numbers of journalists are threatened online every day in retaliation for their work. These attacks clearly reflect attempts to undermine the credibility of independent news organizations that are deeply committed to fair and accurate reporting.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be doing training and security sessions with colleagues to review this work further, answer questions and take suggestions. We will undoubtedly continue to bolster our resources as we better understand and respond to these threats.
Thank you for your continued courage, tenacity and support for one another.
This is not an attack on Twitter. Twitter has tremendous value. We have readers there, we have people we want to hear. I thought it became outsized in its influence. I thought that some journalists were, you know, looking to Twitter for validation of their coverage. And I think that gave Twitter more power than, frankly, it deserved.
And then you add to that the fact that people are often attacked on Twitter unfairly. It made us reach out. Rebecca Blumenstein is one of the senior leaders here, and she spent time talking to reporters, talking to editors. I talked to a lot of reporters myself, and a high percentage of them said they would love a reset.
You know, when I became editor, which was after the Innovation Report, we didn’t order people to get on Twitter, but we pushed them to. In fact, I can remember people pushing me to go on Twitter. I think that there were a bunch of people at the Times who thought we wanted them to live on Twitter as much as they do. And over time, we realized we didn’t want them to do so.
So there was no one prompt. I started to feel that Twitter’s influence in journalism, period, and in our journalism was too great.
Now, I want to reiterate the value of Twitter. You don’t want to run away from criticism. If there’s a place where there are a lot of people talking about your journalism, you should be aware of it. But you should not make that as large a force in your life. You should be on Twitter if you want to be on Twitter — you should just do it a lot less. And you should be reporting outside of Twitter a lot more. You should be looking for readers and the people who need our journalism in places other than Twitter — including getting out in the world and talking to people other than, you know, each other and people on Twitter. So it’s a chance to pull back and rethink how to deal with it.
The other danger is coming to believe that Twitter’s reaction to your coverage should be the primary way you regard the success or failure of your coverage. And I think that should not be Twitter’s place in a journalistic institution that aspires to be independent. Does that make sense?
I want to stress one thing too, which is the part of the note that says that we also understand that our people have been attacked a great deal, and they often feel like we’re not there for them. And we need to be, so so we’ve come up with a pretty elaborate system to make people feel like we’re there for them. We want to protect them more.
The answer to your question, where else do you go other than Twitter — I don’t think there’s a perfect way to know how your story lands, to be honest. And I think one of the allures of Twitter for people, I think, was that it feels like true feedback — fast, real-time feedback. And my fear is, that’s true, but it’s not fully accurate feedback.
I also want to acknowledge Twitter is a big deal reporting tool, right? I mean, it’ll be hard to cover Ukraine without Twitter. So this is not attacking Twitter. This is like: Let’s just shrink its role in our lives. Let’s just put it in its appropriate perspective.
I’m curious — whatever the line is that a reporter shouldn’t cross, do you see that line being uniform across the newsroom, or is different for different people, depending on what that person is covering? For instance, if we’re talking about someone’s tweet about politics, is the line different for a White House reporter than it is for a sports reporter, or a developer in the newsroom, or someone else whose job doesn’t have a particular connection to politics?
You asked about the timing and whether this was consistent with the previous guidelines. I think that what’s happened is that, since we wrote the original rules — and since we encouraged people to go on Twitter, which we really did if you go back and look at what we did after the Innovation Report — a lot has happened. But the main thing that’s happened is it’s assumed too big a role in our lives.
I stopped tweeting, mainly, because I didn’t have time. And also because, frankly, I always wondered whether editors had enough to say on Twitter. I feel like I live my life through reporters.
But to me, the main purpose of what we’re trying to do is not to set up an enforcement regime. It’s really to say to people: We think it’s become too much a part of our lives, and we need to not have it be as important a part of our lives, right? Tweet less, tweet more thoughtfully, and devote more time to reporting.