Thursday, September 2, 2010

Social Media Mistake by Washington Post Columnist

By Stefen Lovelace

It’s a new age for journalism. Every reporter has a Twitter handle and news is distributed to readers instantly. Journalists try to beat the competition on the Internet, Twitter and Facebook rather than in the next day’s newspaper.

This new age comes with a price though. Anything you put out there – whether it be a bylined story, or just a simple tweet – will be read as fact. With so much news, readers have a hard time filtering what’s true and what’s not.

Which brings us to Washington Post columnist Mike Wise. The longtime respected columnist made one of the bigger blunders of his career on Monday.

Wise tweeted that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be suspended for five games. Roethlisberger currently is suspended for six, but many have speculated that suspension may get reduced. The quarterback is a lightning rod for controversy right now, and diehard football fans are following any and every news item that comes out about him.

The tweet about Roethlisberger by Wise was a lie. He tweeted three times afterwards saying he had sources to back up his claim. All of this was made-up, or “a test” as Wise put it, to show how quick news and false news can spread throughout the internet.

It was a terrible mistake by Wise. I understand what he was trying to prove, but his approach was unthinkable. All a journalist has is his or her word and making up news is a cardinal sin in the journalism profession.

A journalist’s reputation “is on the line with every tweet, for better or worse,” [Columbia University Digital Media Professor Sree] Sreenivasan said. “People have a reasonable expectation that it’s accurate or the best of what you know at the moment.”

Wise was suspended for a month from The Post for his mistake. I think that’s about right, especially considering The Post is one of the most credible and well-respected newspapers in the country. Since social media is still so new, and there’s no real precedent for what to do in this situation, there was clear disagreement as to whether Wise’s punishment was just.

Yet within The Post, there was disagreement about whether the punishment fit the crime. Andrew Alexander, the paper’s ombudsman, wrote on his blog that Mr. Wise was “lucky he wasn’t fired.” Howard Kurtz, the paper’s media writer, wrote in a message on Twitter that the suspension “seems overly harsh to me.”

Twitter is a great resource for journalists and wonderful for spreading news. But this incident once again shows the importance of using caution and thinking before putting something up in the social media universe for the world to see.

Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. Contact him at

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1 comment:

  1. I agree that it was a big mistake. That said, Wise did prove the point he was trying to make and I think the Post needs to consider Mike's track record as being a fantastic journalist. The penalty seems too harsh to me.