The gray area of transparency
Social media can make an association board meeting messy. Just ask the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Debate is stirring in journalism circles online over its decision to ban the live tweeting of its board meeting.
Here's the quandry: It wasn't a board member tweeting, nor was it a reporter from an external news organization. It was a student reporter for UNITY News, the in-house news operation for the UNITY 2012 Conference, which brings together an alliance of identity-specific journalism associations and is where the board meeting was being held.
I don't know if the reporter was technically a member of NAHJ, but let's assume she was. How does an association board properly handle the challenge of live media at its meetings?
For board members: Regarding board members themselves, I've written here before that I think the answer is education about what must remain confidential and about how and why live tweeting can interfere with effective board decision making. (At the very least, a tweeting board member is a distracted board member.) But I'd stop short of an outright ban.
For outside press: In the case of reporters from outside publications, the answer is simple, as an association (generally) doesn't have an obligation to open its affairs to the public. Tell them they can read the press release.
For at-large members: But it's the area in between that's gray, when an at-large member wants to attend a board meeting and communicate proceedings to members in real time. At-large members have a legitimate claim to be made aware of their association's governance proceedings, but an association board has a legitimate need to conduct its meetings in an environment that enables candid discussion and debate.
As Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre pointed out, "The reason to have a board is to select representatives to discuss and agree on policy in a way that would be too time-consuming and inefficient in a plenary of the membership. Minute-by-minute reporting would tend to turn a board meeting into something like a plenary."
That's an argument that probably makes a lot of sense to an association executive or anyone who, like John, has served on a nonprofit board, but it likely won't resonate with members rallying in the name of transparency. A decision to close the doors or ban media should not be taken lightly.
Those of you out there who have faced this situation at your associations: How have you handled it? Where is the line drawn? How do you strike a balance between transparency and effective board business?
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