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Sky News Twitter Policy Debate - is the company right to ban staff from retweeting?


By Stephen Lepitak, -

February 8, 2012 | 9 min read

Last night an email was sent to Sky News journalists instructing them not to retweet stories by other journalists and to check with the newsdesk first before breaking their own stories on Twitter.

The instruction has caused mass debate, with many on Twitter condemning the decision as being against the core principle of social media. The Drum spoke to several social media and public relations experts and journalists for their views.


Katerina Zherebtsova - marketing director at Grape Digital

Sky's decision to limit its staff in retweeting and commenting on other journalist's stories is of course a restrain, but I would argue that in the age where everyone is a journalist and everyone becomes a news carrier, a strong editorial line that news sources should have has become increasingly important. Social media makes 'Instant endorsement' too easy and quick to make, and whilst retweets should continue to fill the daily content of non-news specific publishers, dedicated channels like Sky have to own every one of their opinions and sources.

Nicola Peate - Social Media Manager for Rippleffect

In the world of social media news is an incredibly fast paced and competitive marketplace both amongst official news outlets and the Twitter rumour mill. Retweeting can often be the fastest way of breaking a story and allows news organisations to be instantly in on the action..

Yet retweeting is effectively putting your name to a post and authorising it as something worth reading. For a journalist to do this they must be 100% sure that what they are retweeting is both accurate and factual. This effectively means that they are making the decisions of an editor without the skillset to do so.

Modern journalism is a complicated minefield of laws meaning that a two second ill-informed retweet can be career crushing for a journalist. It is important that reporters are aware that they must take ownership of the posts that they retweet. For an organisation such as Sky News it is ultimately their responsibility to take control over what their journalists report, and with hundreds of retweets from a variety of sources everyday it is easy to see why they have adopted this blanket approach.

Reporting the news in 140 characters is a tricky process, which I imagine retweeting made slightly easier for journalists, therefore what Sky News must be considerate of is that they must allow their journalists the time and dedication to manage their twitter accounts effectively if they are to become valuable assets to both the journalists and their readers.

Craig McGill, managing director of social media consultancy Contently Managed

In social media circles people always say that the first thing that you should do is have guidelines and have procedures in place but now that Sky has come out and said ‘Here is our procedures and here is our policy’ everyone’s bitching at them for doing it. You don’t see people having a pop at newspaper staff though for not including lines to stories in their tweets for example.

As an ex-journalist I find it quite funny that people are putting the boot and saying ‘imagine not allowing Sky employees to retweet anything they want’. It’s a good thing as it shows that Sky is only willing to pass on information that is verified an accurate. Anyone who supports journalistic standards should welcome that move.

Some people will suggest that it works against what Twitter stands for and claim that it should be used as a conversational medium, but at the same time many councils only use it for one-way, many companies only use it for one-way broadcast. Sky’s doing nothing different from other people and while it’s not to everyone’s tastes, the whole point of social media is that you can use it in whatever way you want. There’s not one rule that fits all.

Audrey Hingle - senior project manager for Grape Digital

News agencies as a whole tend not to retweet other journalists or news agencies. This is a reflection of how news outlets tend to use Twitter. Though you can use it in many ways, popular Twitter users tend to either create content, or curate content (i.e. find interesting things and share them). Because news agencies tend to be in the business of creating content in the form of news stories, their Twitter handles tend to promote that content and deliver breaking news. For the most part, their followers are interested in receiving the news as quickly as possible, thus this is a reasonable way for them to use the medium.


Simon Collister – consultancy director for We Are Social

Sky, as an early adopter of Twitter, has taken a big step backwards. It's easy to see where it’s coming from in terms of attempting to protect the brand from association with inappropriate personal tweets or unconfirmed news, but Sky is missing the point. The biggest damage to the brand will be that its reporters go from being ‘real people’ to official broadcast channels for Sky. This risks diminishing the range, breadth and quality of the content being produced and shared.

What will these policies mean for the individual journalists concerned? Many of Sky's reporters understand that getting the most out of Twitter means reciprocal engagement through sharing and retweeting other users and are already flouting the new policies. If Sky journalists find themselves losing followers, authority or relevance in the increasingly networked news environment, it will be interesting to see if this leads to higher staff turnover - or a management re-evaluation of the proposed practices.

Allan Barr, head of digital and social media at communications agency The BIG Partnership

Whilst I can appreciate that they to need protect their reputation, Sky has completely missed the point here. What makes this announcement even more surprising is that historically many Sky journalists have been pretty impressive in their use of social media; Neil Mann, Sky’s Digital Editor who tweets under the @FieldProducer handle, has developed a huge following and is now recognised as one of the leading sources for breaking news on Twitter, partly through curating and sharing the kind of diverse content that these new guidelines now prohibit.

In today’s media landscape, the ability for journalists to share credible news via popular social media channels like Twitter has never been more important. In my opinion, these new guidelines will actively hinder Sky’s journalists from delivering what most people want from their news provider: transparency, impartiality and interactivity. I’m afraid Sky has simply got this one wrong and it will be interesting to see how long it takes them to realise it.

Mat Murray – online content editor, Fuse8

These new guidelines will only serve to reduce the effectiveness of social media. The joy of social media is the real-time nature of the Internet; the fact that news can break in a second and spread across the world in next to no time is one of the biggest changes to news organisations in recent years, and that is all thanks to social media.

But by limiting Sky News reporters to tweet about only the stories they are assigned to, breaking news will have to wait until the right reporter can tweet about it. Hardly an innovative use of social media. Every second lost in a breaking news story is one less click to your website.

And because reporters can only retweet fellow Sky News reporters, I may as well unfollow the 10+ reporters I currently follow on Twitter, and follow just the one, right? They’re all going to be talking and retweeting the same news story anyway, so what does it matter?

These guidelines only affect the end user like you and I; instead of numerous interesting and unique-in-their-own-ways Sky News reporter Twitter accounts, we’re now going to get cookie-cutter links to the same news story.

Well done Sky, you just broke breaking news.

Bhavna Mistry - associate director at Velvet Integrated PR and former editor of Marketing Event

A basic tenet of journalism is freedom of speech, and a basic tenet of social media is that it is immediate and largely without rules. Good journalism is based on debate and acknowledging the views of others even if you disagree with those views. And the best journalism is about communicating a rounded picture, that presents both sides of a debate and leaves the reader to make up his/her own mind. This move from Sky News smacks of dumbing down debate and the healthy exchange of opinion. When Apple launched its iPhone, the tech journalists refined their opinions of it in part through Twitter debate – it was an admirable demonstration of their expertise, and even if you weren’t involved, it was exhilarating to track.

Laura Randall, social media intern at Grape Digital

It’s a shame that one of the largest news corporations in the world, an organisation known as innovators in digital communication, is trying to take a giant step backwards. All this policy does is pose the question, who owns a Twitter account? Clearly in this instance Sky are proving that it’s not the individual, but the organisation, and this clamp down is proving that Sky feels they are more important than their journalists.

Social media has revolutionised the way we access news. From the Arab Spring to natural disasters across the globe, it is thanks to people on the inside that we can access a live stream of real life accounts. Sky’s newly-adopted policy does nothing but restrict what citizen journalists have, unknowingly, worked hard to create in the past decade. If Sky, in their bubble of knowledge, believe that they can be omnipresent and omniscient then this ethos might work. But it’s hard to see this ban as anything but a violation of social media’s ethos. The joy of the internet is that you can link and be linked, Sky’s no-retweet policy does nothing but invalidate it.

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