Should reporters’ tweets and Facebook posts be edited in advance?

New York Times | The Atlantic | Mondoweiss 
Margaret Sullivan reveals that New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren will have her social media posts edited after a “rocky start.”

Sullivan includes a summary of Rudoren’s tweets from The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:

She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart’s upcoming book as, “terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection.” She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper.

More recently, Rudoren angered some with Facebook posts that seemed too sympathetic to the Israeli point of view.

Credit Rudoren for trying to embrace social media and join a discussion with readers — but Sullivan points out the added challenges of being responsive and casual when you have “one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism.”

Sullivan calls the decision to assign editorial oversight “a necessary step” in order “to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.”

Rudoren is not the first journalist covering the Middle East to land in controversy.

In 2010 CNN’s Middle Eastern affairs editor, Octavia Nasr, lost her job after tweeting that a recently deceased Palestinian leader was “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

Nasr told Poynter earlier this year that it’s difficult for some journalists to stay out of trouble on social media, because “it’s not about what you say and what you mean, but it’s about the perception of what you said and what you meant. What guidelines are going to address that?”

For reporters on certain beats (like politics or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) where there are two sides, entrenched, distrustful, suspicious and passionate, prior editing of social media can be a smart move.

Editing every tweet and status from every reporter is probably unreasonable and impractical, and may inhibit reporters’ overall level of usage and experimentation. Still, the BBC does ask for “a second set of eyes” on all social media posts.

But you know what else inhibits social media usage? Fear of losing your job for saying the wrong thing.

Reporters whose beats are minefields of controversy should probably welcome editorial oversight of social media. At the least, they should take initiative on occasion to ask an editor’s opinion before posting about a sensitive topic.

To demonstrate how complicated these minefields can be to navigate, Ali Abunimah has already blogged about Sullivan’s “smear” of him (see above) as “a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction.”

Related: Rudoren in a Politico Q&A: “Maybe six months from now I’ll decide that you can’t tweet as the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times.” | The BBC has fired two staffers and disciplined two others for inappropriate social media use, but it’s not clear if they were news staff (The Telegraph). The BBC also told staff “it would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publically across social media.”

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  • Caroline

    We don’t edit Tweets or Facebook posts, but we do edit Tumblr posts, because they tend to be longer. I think a social media training and policy tends to go a long way.

  • ChristofferM

    It’s ironic that journalists have a hard time separating when they should be objective or opinionated. Furthermore, as a class of professionals so confident in their own abilities they sometimes seem to lack a basic sense of timing and understanding of the public’s varied feelings especially in controversial matters. Instead of creating more control mechanisms and bureaucracy how about simply training the journalists in how to use social media?

  • chris lopez

    As newsroom executives and members of newspaper operating committees (I’ve served on two) we’ve eliminated so many front-line editor positions that there no longer are enough editors in newsrooms to effectively edit copy, let along social posts, or effectively work with and mentor reporters and their work. That’s reality. Let’s stop pretending like newsrooms have resources. They don’t. Most are bare. Most newsrooms are stripped down. We made, I made mistakes by targeting front-line editors for layoffs and buyouts. If I could go back 8 years, I would reshape newsrooms by moving to a correspondent, freelance reporting model and keep editors to shape and keep copy strong and meaningful. But we targeted editors largely for salary savings and in hindsight I think it was the biggest strategic error made.

  • Víctor Manuel Ramos

    The poll gives four options to answer “yes” and only one to answer “no” and that could affect the result of the survey. There are other possibilities between “unfiltered” and “edited.”