Air Check By Diana Marszalek

Who Owns, Controls Social Media Activity?

Stations are carefully wending their way through the minefield of social media dos and don’ts. With no industrywide standards yet established, they must determine how to oversee what employees — especially high-profile on-air personalities — post; whether they should be using station or personal accounts; and who owns such accounts and their growing legions of followers.
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Now that the use of social media is part of the TV newsroom norm, the industry is wrestling with the next wave of issues associated with the medium — hashing out matters ranging from who owns on-air personalities’ Facebook accounts to delineating between professional and personal tweets.

Individuals on all sides of the equation, from station group owners to newsroom staffers, are pushing to add more structure to the use of social media both on and off the job, primarily so the practice doesn’t come back to bite them, industry watchers say.

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The lack of industrywide standards regulating social media practices also is starting to create unexpected problems, particularly for anchors and reporters who, to some degree, are winging it.

“If you are not going to get direction and input and you are doing it half on [your] own and half on behalf of [your] stations, you are going to get in hot water,” says Jaime Spencer, a Magid VP who specializes in social media.

Just last week, for example, Rachel Barnhart, a reporter at WHAM Rochester, N.Y. (DMA 79) who spent years building a robust Facebook following on a personally created page, publically raised one such issue when she told fans that she would start using new social media accounts during work hours in keeping with new station owner Sinclair Broadcasting’s policy of “owning” such accounts of its on-air personalities.

“This raises a lot of questions for journalists about who owns your online presence and identity,” Barnhart says.

Brand Connections

Barnhart says she understands Sinclair’s rationale for requiring talent to have station-related social media accounts, as well as owning the content that’s on them. (Sinclair’s attorney was not available to discuss the matter).

But having invested countless hours in personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, which together have about 20,000 followers, Barnhart says she is concerned that stations will ultimately be able to “own” their talents’ followers as well, much like a company owns a salesperson’s rolodex.  Barnhart says she could see the day when those sorts of questions will be hammered out in contract talks.

“Anchors have traditionally been paid for their followings, which is how many people watch them,” she says. “Social media changes that game because now that popularity is quantifiable. Yet stations are telling them they don’t own their popularity on the digital realm.”

A host of station owners, including large groups like Gannett and Hearst, are taking such issues to heart, and are in midst of revising their social media policies so that they can address the range of rapidly emerging concerns such as that one, company executives say.

Others already spell out specifics — like who owns what and what sort of behavior on social media is expected from news staffers, regardless of whether they are speaking on behalf of a station or not — primarily “to keep their staffs out of trouble, or in some cases to protect the company,” says Jeff Sonderman, the Poynter Institute’s digital fellow.

Many station groups won’t share the details of their social media policies, saying employment-related topics like this one are not up for public discussion.

But we do have a sampling of some of the stricter policies stations are putting in place — and models that groups will likely follow as the medium evolves and becomes more complex.

As reported in June, NBC Owned Television Stations requires individuals who work in its newsrooms — from interns and production assistants to reporters and anchors — to follow the company rules governing social media use, regardless of whether they are using the platform to promote news or their personal lives.

Scripps’ social media policy also extends to the content and tenor of staffers’ personal social media accounts.

Employees will be held responsible for material on any accounts “that could reflect badly on Scripps, its business operations or your colleagues, or is contrary to Scripps policies,” and could be disciplined – or even lose their jobs – as a result, according to the policy, which was posted online when first issued.

Scripps’ policy also gets into the nitty gritty of who owns personalities’ various social media accounts — as well as what they post on them. It states, for example, that Scripps is the explicit owner of its news talents’ professional social media accounts, while the employees own their personal ones, which “should focus on your personal life.” But any “work product” posted on a personal account still belongs to the company, it says.

Soderman says he believes news organizations’ social media policies and discussions too frequently resemble “a list of all the things you should be afraid of, imposing an overall sense of fear or danger” rather that reinforcing positive ways to use it.

But Chip Mahaney, the digital director for Scripps’ TV stations, says that a real key to a successful social media policy is allowing air talent to work the medium in ways that work for them.

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Comments (3) -

PhillyPhlash Nickname posted over 4 years ago
A covert U.S. government censorship regime run by Lockheed Martin under contract to various U.S. government agencies, commands and the fusion center network covertly controls -- and CENSORS -- social media in the U.S., says veteran TV and newspaper journalist Vic Livingston, former business reporter for Fox 29 in Philadelphia: http://nowpublic.com/world/u-s-govt-censors-internet-political-speech-fraud-deception
jdshaw Nickname posted over 4 years ago
Phiily - Please take your meds. P.S. - your crazy rant has been reported to the moderator for removal.
Ron Stitt Nickname posted over 4 years ago
This has to be said: For all the hand-wringing and paranoia about "bad stuff happening", and even though every little incident gets national coverage, given the number of news people involved in social media, and the sheer volume of their posting, the actual problems are miniscule compared to the benefits. That doesn't mean don't have a policy or plan...it means "get a grip".
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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 26, 2016
  • 1.
    4.4/12
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    2.8/8
  • 3.
    2.5/7
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    1.5/4
  • 5.
    0.8/2
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    0.3/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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