The News adopts social media guidelines

The Buffalo News has added guidelines on social media use in the workplace to its existing Electronic Communications Policy.

The Electronic Communications Policy, which took effect in 2000, covers the use of such electronic communications equipment as telephones, voice mail, facsimile, email and Internet access. The new language covers social media, including Facebook,Twitter, YouTube, blogs, wikis, forums and other similar websites and social networks.

The following is a brief explanation of how the social media guidelines came to be incorporated into the Electronic Communications Policy.

In July 2012,The Buffalo News sent a letter and proposed policy on social media to the Guild. Many papers across the country have instituted social media policies, and News management felt it was time to have one of its own. The News has the legal and contractual right to implement new policies and work rules, provided the change does not violate the contract and provided the employer gives the union advance notice of the proposed change and an opportunity to bargain over the effect on members. The Guild regularly exercises its right to bargain with The News over new or changed policies, and the proposed policy on social media was no exception.

Before meeting with management, The Guild’s Executive Committee and editorial members of the Executive Committee met repeatedly to discuss the matter. Then, the Guild sat down with company human resources managers to ask questions about the proposed policy and to find out what the News was seeking to achieve with the policy.  After an extensive discussion, The News decided that a modification of the Electronic Communications Policy, rather than a separate policy, would be sufficient to address its social media concerns.

This was an optimal outcome given the more restrictive social media polices at other newspapers and the longer and more complicated policy instituted for other News employees.

The News will distribute a copy of the revised Electronic Communications Policy to all Guild members, but here’s what is new:

“It is understood that employees may maintain accounts with various social media sites both for personal and professional use. But employees must remain mindful that any of their conduct on social media that adversely affects their job performance or the performance of fellow employees may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

This is not a new concept. The revised policy applies a longstanding legal principle governing employees’ off-duty conduct. That off-duty conduct would include social media. Routinely, arbitrators uphold discipline issued for conduct away from the workplace if the employee’s behavior is proven to undermine the employee’s own ability to do his or her job, or to significantly interfere with the performance or effectiveness of other workers.

Likewise, labor law is also developing to apply other longstanding tenets of employee relations to social media. For instance, recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board have upheld the right of employees to use social media to discuss workplace issues and organize among themselves to advocate for better pay and working conditions. Guild members’ rights to engage in job actions using social media are protected under the revised policy.

The new policy also includes language specific to journalists:

“As a result of their work on behalf of the paper, many newsroom employees are readily identifiable as Buffalo News journalists. Those employees must be especially cognizant of how their social media activity may impact their ability to function effectively in their role as a Buffalo News journalist. Those employees will be guided by the following points:

 a) The journalistic principles that apply to print work also apply to social media activity.

 b) Journalists will identify themselves as an employee of the Buffalo News on any site where their postings are a function of their job or where the site’s content relates to issues the journalist covers in his or her role for the News.

c) Journalists are not required to identify themselves as a News employee on any site on which both the site’s content and the content of the employee post is unrelated to the subjects they cover for the News.”

A key point to keep in mind is that Facebook and other similar websites are public and not private spaces. By all means, use social media for personal enjoyment or to help with your job and union activity.  But use good judgment and common sense. The same principles that currently apply to your activity in public apply to your activities on social media, and employees who are publicly known as News journalists must remember to apply the same professional principles to their social media activity that they already use on a day-to-day basis.

The Guild was not faced with a choice between the inclusion of social media guidelines in the Electronic Communications Policy or no policy at all. The News has the right to institute a policy. Given that fact, Guild leaders negotiated a very minimal and progressive set of measures as compared to policies at other newspapers and news outlets.

If you have questions about the policy, we encourage you to raise them at one of the general membership meetings at noon or 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20 in The News auditorium. Copies of the new Electronic Communications policy will be available. Lunch will be provided and the Guild will raffle off a pair of Sabres tickets. For the full agenda, go to