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Journalism Professor Anthony Adornato Presents Paper at Paris Conference

Contributed by Brandy Hawley on 07/19/19 

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Anthony Adornato, associate professor of journalism, presented a paper titled “Newsroom Ownership of Employee Social Media Accounts: Implications for Journalists,” at the World Journalism Education Congress in Paris. 


About the Paper

It’s the policy of an increasing number of news outlets to retain ownership of the professional social media accounts of their reporters. In the first case of its kind in the United States, one outlet took a former employee to court over the question of ownership. The Roanoke Times in Virginia filed a suit in 2018 against a former sports reporter, alleging a breach of its social media policy. The reporter, who left his position at the Times for a competing news outlet, took with him the Twitter account he had used as part of his work with the outlet. This paper will explore a host of uncharted practical and legal implications this type of case raises for the industry, with the potential of journalists finding themselves in the middle of a legal battle. The authors first synthesize the current scholarly literature, industry best practices, and related case law, albeit dearth. The authors argue that utilizing trade secret laws to assert ownership of an employee’s account(s), a strategy used in the Times case and other related lawsuits, is an ill-fitted approach. Social media accounts and their associated followers are not “secret.” A comprehensive policy could prevent legal action in the first place by providing employees with guidelines that address a myriad of issues discussed in this paper. The authors offer provisions of a policy that would protect news outlets while also acknowledging the importance of social media accounts to the livelihood of journalists and to the free flow of information from journalists to the public.

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