The journalist as citizen

Nevermind the citizen journalist with their smart phone reportage, Globe
and Mail
columnist Lisan Jutras writes about the encroaching era
of the
“journalist citizen” in the wake of a CNN editor losing her job over a
single tweet.

CNN senior editor Octavia Nasr wrote in the offending Twitter post: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

Jutras writes: “That was it: 20 years of employment dashed in 140 characters. “We believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised,” said a senior CNN vice-president in a widely publicized internal memo.”

“No matter who you are, having an opinion is a risky business. It always has been. We daily weigh our impulse to honesty against common sense (look, I’ve got friends who have taken to wearing high-waisted pants). Personally, I’m no good at staying my hand when tantalizing spats are unfolding mere inches before my snoot. But the advent of social media has not only made it easy to publicly blurt out a half-cooked opinion – it guarantees it immortality.”

Jutras notes that Twitter’s immediacy creates a unique hazard.

“Careless tweeting has felled many a user, from politicians to aspiring employees (“Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work,” wrote “theconnor” hours before the offer was rescinded.) And as Ms. Nasr has since acknowledged herself, when the Middle East is your area of expertise, it’s probably best to use more than 140 characters to make your point.”

She points out that companies are starting to create employee guidelines for social media conduct, saying that Intel’s guidelines require employees post “meaning, respectful comments — in other words, no spam and no remarks that are off-topic or offensive.”

Jutras writes: “For the media, this issue has been particularly thorny, particularly considering they champion both impartiality and free speech. The Washington Post a year ago came under fire for cautioning its employees to express no biases when using social media, saying “nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment.”