Editor overhears councilwoman's phone conversation, tweets about it

Orange County Register | The Liberal OC | OC Weekly

While on a train Thursday, Bob Salladay, a senior editor at California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting, realized he was sitting near Santa Ana City Council member Michele Martinez. He listened to her talk on the phone and then started tweeting what she said about her campaign. He also tweeted that he was "99 percent sure it was Michele Martinez."

It turns out, it was. In an email statement, Martinez responded: “I don’t know what’s worse; someone secretly listening to a private conversation without consent or misrepresenting that conversation publicly. It’s disrespectful, dishonest and downright creepy." Salladay tweeted in response: "There is nothing secret about an elected official talking loudly on a public train."

Salladay told me via email that he heard from several people who supported his decision to tweet about the conversation, and that he didn't think there was anything he needed to verify.

"I was tweeting a snapshot in time of what she was saying; that's how you use Twitter. I was just bringing people into my world," he said, noting that California Watch may follow up on what Martinez said in the phone conversation.

The incident raises some important questions for journalists: If you overhear a local official say something in an informal setting, should you tweet about it? There are risks, of course, in doing so. When you tweet information you haven't verified, the potential to spread misinformation that could affect the public becomes higher -- especially if you don't have context to support the tweets, and you're not 100 percent sure that the person is who you think it is.

What's your take? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Related: Should journalists confirm information before passing it along on Twitter?

  • Mallary Jean Tenore

    As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website, Poynter.org, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the site's live chats. I also help handle the site's social media efforts, and teach social media sessions on the side.


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