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Opinion: Washington Post flap places spotlight on journalists’ social media accounts

Opinion: Washington Post flap places spotlight on journalists’ social media accounts

The Washington Post is embroiled in a controversy that stems from the newspaper’s social media policy. Reporter Felicia Sönmez was fired and another reporter Dave Weigel was suspended without pay for a month after Weigel retweeted a sexist post. Originally it was Sonmez who called out Weigel on Twitter over the post which he promptly removed and issued an apology. Sonmez was fired for continuing to attack colleagues on social media, expanding her criticism of Weigel to charge the Post newsroom was a toxic place that favours some reporters over others. A number of post reporters took to social media to refute Sonmez’s allegations. Sonmez, who was lured to the Post from the New York Times, had previously sued the Post alleging they would not allow her to write stories about sexual assault because she had publicly reported she been a sex assault victim, a position the paper later reversed. While newsroom colleagues praised Sonmez for calling out the sexist tweet by Weigel they appear to have grown tired of her repeated attacks on their workplace. One told Vanity Fair, “and then you have Felicia, who is essentially pouring gasoline on every fire and inviting people to watch.”

The Post is now being criticized for having an outdated social media policy, but a review of the policy suggests it is not the policy that is at fault but the failure to enforce it.

The policy reads in part:

Social media accounts maintained by Washington Post journalists reflect upon the reputation and credibility of the newsroom. Even as we express ourselves in more personal and informal ways to forge better connections with our readers, we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence. Every comment or link we share should be considered public information, regardless of privacy settings.

Our view for what it’s worth, is that there shouldn’t be much daylight between a reporter’s social media postings and their journalism. One of the prices you pay for the privilege of reporting is that you do not have the freedom to engage in anything on social media that calls into question the objectivity of your reporting. At a time where there is increasing reliance on citizen journalism it is more important than ever that reporters exercise self-discipline.

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