Lineker-BBC row: survey shows how different outlets approach their staff’s social media presence

Kelly Fincham, University of Galway

The row over Gary Lineker’s tweet criticising the UK government’s proposed asylum legislation has re-ignited the debate about impartiality in journalism and the way news organisations deal with social media.

The BBC now looks set to review its social media policies again (it last did this in 2020). This decision is in line with a wider international media effort. In 2022, the UK Guardian revised its 2018 policies to include language on disciplinary action after a row involving its journalists spilled over onto Twitter.

The Washington Post updated its policies a month later after another high-profile Twitter clash which drew in multiple Post staffers and resulted in the firing of one reporter and the suspension of another.

In 2020, the BBC revised its 2019 guidelines after a row over “virtue signalling” saying that staff could not use activist hashtags or retweets “no matter how worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial”.

And in a situation which echoes the current BBC brouhaha, the US sports giant ESPN revamped its guidelines in 2017 after suspending TV anchor Jemele Hill for tweeting that then-president Donald Trump was racist. Like Lineker, Hill worked in sports rather than news – but ESPN said it needed to revisit the guidelines to make sure that all employees, no matter the field, were aware of the new expectations around impartiality on social media.

ESPN’s 2017 guidelines were markedly different to their 2011 policies which, like many others, were focused more on maintaining control of content than concerns about political commentary. It’s difficult to comprehend now, but news outlets initially declined to set formal policies. Most have tended to use what the BBC used to see as its “common sense” approach. This was that reporters should refrain from posting anything “that would embarrass them personally or professionally or their organisation”. This hands-off style of guidance was perhaps best symbolised by the reluctance of The New York Times to set any policy at all.

The BBC, like many news organisations surveyed here, is in a different place now. The concerns about reputational damage are driving policy to the point that a survey I conducted of 13 mainstream news organisations in the US, Canada, the UK, and Ireland shows that impartiality is the primary theme among a wide swath of news organisations. The list includes state broadcasters (RTÉ, CBC, BBC and NPR), commercial broadcasters (Sky), centre-right tabloids (Globe and Mail, Daily Express/Daily Star), centre-left broadsheets (The Guardian and The New York Times) as well as wire agencies (Reuters and AP), sports news (ESPN) and digital (BuzzFeed).


Impartiality informs every aspect of the guidelines – from obvious pursuits such as commentary to relatively innocuous activities such as “liking” content and retweets. The rules appear to be pretty consistent across regions and types of media outlet.

In the US, the independent non-profit media organisation NPR emphasises the importance of avoiding revealing “personal views on a political or other controversial issue”. Irish state broadcaster RTÉ, meanwhile, warns against showing “bias on current topics” and in the UK the BBC cautions against sharing “views on any policy which is a matter of current political debate”.

In Canada, the Globe and Mail says it’s fine to express views in private but any “political or partisan views which go beyond your public-facing role should not be expressed in public”. ESPN is a bit more nuanced, requesting that employees “do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy”.

But the overriding concern among all news organisations is that any partisan opinions or political views will damage the specific news organisation’s reputation as a source of news and bring them into disrepute.

The problem, as far as the news organisations see it, is that every action of their employees is connected to their workplace. So their social media posts, likes, and shares can be viewed as representing an official position of the organisation. ESPN reminds its employees that “at all times you are representing ESPN, and social sites offer the equivalent of a live microphone”.

RTÉ says that employees are always considered public representatives of the organisation and the Guardian and its stablemate The Observer says that such restrictions extend to every employee associated with their organisation, whether staff or freelance, but particularly those with large followings.


Retweets, as the BBC puts it, are typically viewed as “an expression of opinion on social media”. It’s a comment echoed by the Daily Express/Daily Star which describes them as “an endorsement of the original tweet”.

The Guardian and The New York Times say retweets can reveal “personal prejudices and opinions,” which could raise doubts about a journalist’s ability to cover news events fairly and impartially. As NPR cautions, journalists should not assume that their retweets will not be seen as reflecting their own views: “Don’t assume it’s not going to be viewed that way.”

Liking and friending

Retweets, likes, and friending activities are also considered suspect. The BBC warns against “revealed bias”, in liking and reposting other people’s messages. RTÉ cautions that “liking and following accounts may make other users think those accounts are more trustworthy or that you endorse them”.

The Guardian warns that likes “can easily become public and may be seen as representing an official GNM position”. This is a sentiment echoed in the US where The New York Times emphasises that “everything we post or ‘like’ online is to some degree public. And everything we do in public is likely to be associated with The Times”.

Disclaimers or separate accounts

Overall, while the guidelines highlight the concerns around impartiality on social media they also highlight the absence of guardrails for journalists using any of these platforms. There is no “un-send” button on social media and frequently used strategies such as disclaimers or private accounts are discouraged with all news outlets saying that neither can help in mitigating negative publicity.

The BBC specifically says that there is no difference between how personal and official accounts are perceived on social media – so it will be interesting to see how the UK public broadcaster’s new guidelines further tighten up what is already a fairly restrictive environment.The Conversation

Kelly Fincham, Lecturer in Journalism and Communications, University of Galway

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Using sliders to visualise change over time

In this example I am using the slider to visualise urban sprawl in the seaside village of Bettystown using images from Google Earth.

If you download Google Earth Pro you can adjust the time to collect images from different time periods and then use the Juxtapose tool to do an overlay.

This is a simple, but elegant way to visualise change over time.

Very useful for showing the effects of climate change or conflict.

Understanding headlines in SEO and news analytics

In class today we reviewed the slides from yesterday which looked at how analytics work in the newsroom and the specific parts of content that we need to pay attention to as student journalists (typically headlines and intros).

We then looked at my high-scoring (5k views and counting!) collection of social media policies (see policies on this page) and decided to write some new headlines to improve on the page’s SEO-ability. Why is this? Because the page is not turning up when we search for words like “social media policies” and “news organisations

Clickable headline tool

We used this cool Moz tool to preview the clickable headline (aka title tag) and then students submitted their entries to be used on the piece.

Students also suggested that I change around the intro to see if that helps the piece get picked up and shared more widely and I think they might be right!

I am running an A/B test on the headline and the winning headline-writer is going to get a gift card!

The winning headline-writer will be the one whose headline gets the highest Content Engagement Rank from Google’s new News Analytics. As you can see from the screenshot below the original content with the original headline was ranking a lowly 7th on my site.

May the best student win!

Why we do submissions/assessments as WordPress posts

Why we do this assignment (post our content on WordPress)

As you’re probably aware the internet has radically transformed information industries  and journalists are increasingly expected to be able to demonstrate multiple proficiencies across multiple platforms.

Organising your work as a post on a website gives you an opportunity to get the overview of your work in a more holistic and contextual way than handing in assignments on paper or word docs word docs. 

These are the things I am looking for on a Post submission/assessment

Text: Headline & introduction/SEO Keywords in the first paragraph and clear idea of what the story will be about.

Writing/phrasing: Active (not passive voice); clear sentence construction; no ambiguities in the writing creating sentences or paragraphs where reader might be lost/confused.

Image: Adds value to the SEO (refer to the periodic table in Week 3).

Hyperlinks: At least three links help add value to the reader and helps add value to you as Google views external links as evidence of site value 

Word count: This is to give you practice in writing to a specified word count on deadline.

On SEO – there is no need to get to obsessive about SEO just yet as long as you know what it is and how to attempt to look for it.

Screenshot 2022-02-06 at 12.31.26

Social media policies in leading mainstream news organisations

Curated list of public-facing social media policies available in Australia; Britain; Canada; Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.S
*The guidelines must be publicly available online to be included*

1. ABC Australia Exhaustive and excellent Older version

2. Agence France Presse  Updated version Older version

3. AP Guidelines (2013) Detailed advice on retweets

AP revised Guidelines (2022) Update May 2022  

4. BBC 2020 guidance / Virtue signalling

BBC 2019 guidance / Be aware of risks

BBC 2015 guidance / Don’t do anything stupid

5. BuzzFeed 

6. CBC Canada Updated 2017 – new link added 2019

7. CAJ Canada Last updated 2011

8. CHANNEL 4 n/d

9. CNN – goes to a pdf download

9. ESPN Must for aspiring sports journos Updated 2017 

10. Globe and Mail  Updated 2017

11. Guardian (UK) 2022

12. IPSO UK Independent Press Standards Organization Updated 2016

13. LA Times  No public update since 2009

14. La Stampa, Italy English translation (c/o Alessandro Cappai) Updated 2016

15. New York Times Updated 2017

16. NPR Updated 2021

17. Reuters 

18. RTÉ 2022 much more specific

RTÉ  2013 – very general guidance

19. RTDNA No date

20. SKY News 2014/2015

21. Washington Post Last updated 2011  Article about proposed (and contested) changes 2017

22. Wall Street Journal 2009 Memo to WSJ Staff 2017

Ramp up your job prospects with Excel and basic data skills

Did you know that new and student journalists can really stand out to potential employers if they develop proficiency in basic data skills?

Do you love sports and want to find a way into sports journalism?

Do you want to learn how to tell richer stories and create multiplatform content?

You bring the story ideas and let Google and Excel help you visualize it! This map – showing food violations at restaurants around Hofstra – was built in 3 minutes by a complete beginner (me!) using Google’s My Maps and a CSV file downloaded from New York’s public data site.

Data skills can also give you the confidence to experiment with story forms. Take a look at this map showing which zip codes support which baseball teams. Want to see more? Look at the sports stories on Chartball  which all started out as datasets!

Interested in giving a voice to the voiceless? Look at this interactive map which vividly illustrates the history of collective violence against black communities in the US in a way that text alone can’t convey.

These are just some of the examples of the content you can create using basic data skills.

And the best thing? No math is needed and no coding is required. 🙂

AEJMC social media panel San Francisco 2015

2015-08-06 08.45.02We had a strong crowd (despite the 8.15 am start!) for our  AEJMC panel which shared ways to engage the digitally active students in the professional use of social media.

1. Seeing What They Tweet Prof. Kelly Fincham @kellyfincham

Facebook How to download Facebook data
Docteur Tweety  Tool to download Twitter lists

2. Global connections and social media Dr Bill Silcock @DrBillASU

Links to come

3. Effective use of LinkedIn Dr. Donica Mensing @donica

Slideshare presentation The Ugly Duckling of Social Media

Snapchat advice Chris Snider

4. News-inspired Spotify playlists  Prof. Jake Batsell @jbatsell

Slides News inspired playlists 

Assignment Spotify assignments

End Product Texas Tribune Playlists



Kelly Fincham is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations at Hofstra University and teaches social and online journalism in the undergraduate and graduate program.
Her research explores the intersection of social media in journalism practice and curriculum and she has contributed two chapters to recent books on social media as well as articles at Poynter and Education Shift.
She founded Hofstra’s award-winning student news site, Long Island Report drawing on my experience as the founding editor of IrishCentral. com, the industry-leading U.S.-based Irish web site.

Bill Silcock is the Curator of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program at Arizona State University and the Director of Cronkite Global Initiatives. He was twice selected as a Fulbright Scholar (Ireland, 1992, Sweden, 1997). A co-authored of books including “News Now: Visual Storytelling in the Digital Age” his focus is clearly global. Dr Bill has taught workshops for 500 journalists in 20 nations and produced journal articles in the field of TV news, media ethics and war coverage. His latest co-authored piece challenges traditional gatekeeping theory with a new focus on visual images. An award winning documentary film maker he’s taught TV news, media ethics and journalism history at Brigham Young, Missouri and now at Cronkite.

Donica Mensing is Associate Dean at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she teaches courses in participatory journalism, social media, and basic reporting and writing; keeps an occasional blog and tweets at @donica. She is interested in the changing role of journalism in a networked society and how journalism schools can and should respond to these changes. She co-edited Journalism Education, Training, and Employment and led a complete curriculum redesign at the Nevada program.

Jake Batsell is an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University’s Division of Journalism in Dallas, where he teaches digital journalism and media entrepreneurship. His book, Engaged Journalism: Connecting with Digitally Empowered News Audiences (Columbia University Press, February 2015) examines the changing relationship between journalists and the audiences they serve. Batsell, previously a staff writer for the Seattle Times and Dallas Morning News, spent the 2013-14 academic year at The Texas Tribune in Austin as part of a Knight Foundation fellowship to research best practices in the business of digital news.

Data basics for new or student journalists

First: Catch your data! Here are some places to fish for data

Extract your data from horrible PDFs and/or scraping

Tidy your data

Google/Open Refine Download here

Use the Power Tools add-on in Google to make cleaning columns a breeze.

Visualize your data (work in progress)




Random links


La Stampa social media guidelines – English translation

See the original in Italian

WEB NOTES Anna Masera


Handbook for the use of social media

Guidelines in La Stampa: a starting point


This draft of “social media policy” back in January 2012, when I was appointed Social Media Editor at La Stampa. We kept internally as a reference point, but on popular demand we have decided to publish it, because it’s not a secret document and is a work “in progress” that can benefit from the contribution of everyone, even those who are reading from the outside. So we accept your comments in the acceptable limit, below: I will analyze them all carefully and I will take it if it will be constructive to adjust the throw and update those who want to be simple guidelines for teamwork, while respecting the individuality of each.


All reporters for La Stampa are encouraged to have an account on social networks and are encouraged to experiment with and use them for work. They are now an integral part of everyday life and innovation that is permeating the papers. It ‘s a new land and we are all invited to participate in figuring out how to use it. For this reason, these guidelines will be updated and changed often, and it is welcome contributions from everyone. With social networks every journalist has one more chance to express themselves professionally and the newspaper to become famous.

However, since the activity of interaction and socialization of a newspaper reporter who is on social networks bring into play the image of the head, you need a handbook of behavior.


1) The reporters for La Stampa that want to use social networks on behalf of the newspaper will be included in the pages of the website. In this case, La Stampa provides legal assistance, after joining these guidelines

2) The reporters for La Stampa are required to identify themselves as such if they are using their profiles to work (and not just for personal interest).

3) The information must be given first to the newspaper, paper or digital.

4) A proposal rejected paper edition because it is considered not appropriate to the editorial choice of the newspaper, will of course retain the same inadequacy even on digital platforms.

5) And it’s forbidden to divulge on social media news that La Stampa has not yet published, no matter in what format (eg. Anticipate articles coming the next day at newsstands). Exceptions are cases where there is an explicit choice of the direction of promoting content for the newsstand in advance.

6) And it’s forbidden to publish in your profile material properties of La Stampa or confidential information (for example,. Internal business letters, and press releases CoR).

7) It’s good to link the content of La Stampa rather than copy and paste the content on your own personal pages (especially without a link to the source).

8) It’s good to keep in mind that whatever you publish on the Internet is likely to be permanent and can be tracked by search engines in every single word even many years after publication.

9) The reporters for La Stampa on social networks should be aware that any personal information they reveal themselves or their colleagues may be associated with the name of La Stampa.

It is now known that nothing is truly private on the Internet: so you have to be careful with with privacy settings  (for example on Facebook) Instructions will be provided in regard to those who required it.

10) The reporters for La Stampa must keep in mind that expressing any opinion on social networks may damage the reputation and credibility of their newspaper. It is recommended to apply common sense and professionalism.

It’s good to always declare that the views expressed are personal, but it is good to keep in mind that negative talk can reflect badly on the journalists – public squabbles on social media are highly discouraged.

When you interact with the public on social networks and in the space reserved for the comments in the blog is good practice to thank when criticism is correct and respond promptly to the wrong ones to restore the truth, but always with education: even when the interlocutors are nothing short of rude.

If journalists are victims of attacks by “trolls”, you are invited to notify the company, and – in the meantime – to ignore them.