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BBC now issues strict guidelines on staff use of Twitter for breaking news

By Hamish Mackay

February 9, 2012 | 4 min read

BBC staff has been instructed that they must update their newsroom colleagues before breaking news stories on Twitter.

The new rules, which apply to all of the corporation's correspondents, reporters and producers, were announced yesterday - a day after it was revealed that Sky News had told its journalists not to repost information from any Twitter users who are not an employee of the broadcaster.

The Guardian claims that the new guidelines issued by the BBC have been imposed with the aim of ensuring that stories a reported by its website, without any delay to update using Twitter.

In a blog post by Chris Hamilton, the BBC's social media editor, commented: "We prize the increasing value of Twitter, and other social networks, to us (and our audiences) as a platform for our content, a newsgathering tool and a new way of engaging with people.

"Being quick off the mark with breaking news is essential to that mission. But we've been clear that our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter."

Hamilton, who was said to be writing on the BBC's editors website, said the corporation was "constantly reviewing" its guidance for journalists.

"As part of that, we have just distributed some refreshed breaking news guidance to our correspondents, reporters and producers,” he said.

BBC reporters have apparently been told that when breaking news, they must first write their copy and send through the newsroom system as quickly as possible, to then be distributed through TV, radio and online platforms.

Through his own blog, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent has said that the BBC was very nervous about the use of Twitter to begin with but it had come to the conclusion that social networks can be "brilliant tools for broadcasters as long as they remember that the same rules apply as in any other form of broadcasting".

Says Cellan-Jones: "But, like Sky News, we are still pondering a couple of key questions.

"Is it right, for instance, to break news on Twitter before it reaches any broadcast outlets? In a long-running court case, a series of tweets from the reporter who is following proceedings can be an invaluable way of keeping both the newsdesk and the world informed.

"But when it comes to the verdict, surely the reporter should rush to the live microphone or camera first - even if that means being beaten by a rival tweeter? (Breaking news – I've just had guidance from my bosses that yes, breaking news should be passed to the BBC first rather than Twitter.)

"We are all feeling our way forward through the fog of this new media landscape. The social media revolution is changing power structures in newsrooms, allowing young journalists who understand this new world - and a few older ones - to build reputations independent of their own organisations.

"Some would like to turn the clock back to a simpler time, when all power resided in the newsdesk, only star reporters got a byline, and sharing information with outsiders before the presses rolled or the bulletin began was a sacking offence.

"But it is almost certainly too late for that."

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