Social media sure causes a lot of problems over at the Times–but add the Middle East, and it gets even trickier. Newsroom watchdog Margaret Sullivan once again had to weigh in on Times reporters’ tendency to share their unedited opinions on the Internet.
“Start with a reporter who likes to be responsive to readers, is spontaneous and impressionistic in her personal writing style, and not especially attuned to how casual comments may be received in a highly politicized setting,” Ms. Sullivan writes. Burn! Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren is that reporter. But it isn’t just Ms. Rudoren’s fault. Not exactly. She has, as Ms. Sullivan points out, “one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism.” And Facebook and Twitter are just a obstacle course of problems.
Then “allow reporters unfiltered, unedited publishing channels,” writes Ms. Sullivan. “Words go from nascent, half-formed thoughts to permanent pronouncements to the world at the touch of a key.”
Ms. Rudoren wrote Facebook posts in which she described Palestinians as “ho-hum about the death of loved ones” and, that the first time she cried in Gaza, it was over a letter from an Israeli family.
“I should have talked about steadfastness or resiliency,” she told Ms. Sullivan by phone. “That was a ridiculous word to use.”
But the Times is on it.
“Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly,” Ms. Sullivan explained.
Foreign editor Joseph Kahn is appointing an editor from the foreign desk in the New York newsroom to oversee Ms. Rudoren’s posts.
“The idea is 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,” Ms. Sullivan writes.
No more unfiltered thoughts at the paper of record. But, we understand, it’s awfully tricky in this brave new world.
The alternative, Ms. Sullivan points out, is to forget about blogging and tweeting and just report. While we are sure there are reporters who wouldn’t mind that option at all, it’s not financially feasible. There is no backing up the social media train.
“As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one,” Ms. Sullivan writes.
So, Ms. Rudoren will get an editor for all her Facebook and Twitter needs. A happy solution for all. (Except maybe the editor. And perhaps Ms. Rudoren).