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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 04:58 PM ET, 11/16/2011

Why the Associated Press ordered staff to ‘knock it off’ on Twitter

Twitter has gone after the Associated Press today for upbraiding its staffers for tweeting during Tuesday’s predawn Occupy Wall Street raid, during which AP reporters and many others were arrested. As written up in New York Magazine, the wire service sent its employees this e-mail today:

In relation to AP staff being taken into custody at the Occupy Wall Street story, we’ve had a breakdown in staff sticking to policies around social media and everyone needs to get with their folks now to tell them to knock it off. We have had staff tweet — BEFORE THE MATERIAL WAS ON THE WIRE — that staff were arrested.

How did people on Twitter respond? Here’s one relatively representative take from the personal Twitter account of Mandy Jenkins, social media guru for the Huffington Post:

AP staffers scolded for tweeting ahead of the wires from #OWS. http://bit.ly/smSmj8 i.e. The AP tries its damndest to be irrelevant

The sender of the e-mail was Lou Ferrara, who is the AP’s managing editor for sports, entertainment, lifestyles and interactive. In that capacity, he leads the wire service’s social media activities.

After watching all the nasty commentary on Twitter, Ferrara had some things to say in an interview Wednesday about the AP’s policies and its reaction to the OWS events. Here goes.

Reason No. 1 why AP staffers should not tweet out news that hasn’t yet been produced on an AP platform, Ferrara said, is that “we put news on our products first. That’s what our customers expect.”

Reason No. 2 is a strong imperative: “As a news organization, our first priority is the safety and well being of our people, and we shouldn’t be putting anything out till we have a clear understanding” of exactly what is going on. That’s standard AP policy for situations in which reporters are taken into custody, Ferrara emphasized, both in the United States and abroad.

He said that it was unclear in the OWS raid whether people had been arrested, merely taken into custody or perhaps just lost in the crowd. “People were tweeting things without knowing what the hell happened. That could place staff in jeopardy,” he said.

Hold on there, Ferrara. Must a Twitter user have a complete understanding of what went down? Isn’t Twitter a place for fragmentary, incremental information?

“That’s your perception” of Twitter, he said. “Our perception is to give the most complete and accurate picture as possible.”

Back to the safety question: Isn’t that a bit overblown? Can’t we make a distinction between, say, what may happen to a reporter in the hands of a foreign dictatorship and one hauled in by a domestic police force?

“Let’s say that’s true. But the Internet knows no geographic boundaries,” he said, so he is not going to have one standard for tweeting on law-enforcement clashes with AP reporters stateside and another for such events overseas. The ban on tweeting in these sensitive situations, Ferrara said, stems from pragmatic considerations.

“We thought they would be okay [in the hands of the New York Police Department], but you know that in this world that we live in, that if you’re negotiating the safety of your staff, there are numerous people involved who can make it easy or hard on you, depending on their perception of you,” he said. Some errant tweets, Ferrara added, can cement a bad perception of your organization.

As for the contention that the AP is moving toward irrelevance, Ferrara replied, “If we’re so irrelevant in social media, why do people care about what we do?”

And if the dialogue on AP’s Twitter practices appears a bit one-sided, it needn’t be. Says Ferrara: “Nobody calls me to talk about these things. Nobody e-mails. I’m frankly not difficult to locate.”

By  |  04:58 PM ET, 11/16/2011

 
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