NY Times Bureau Chief Goes Back to Social Media 101

It didn’t take long for Jodi  Rudoren to stumble out of the starting block when she took over as the NY Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief earlier this year.

Before even arriving in Israel, Rudoren was in hot water over some tweets engaging Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and plugging Peter Beinart’s book.

Now, after coming under fire for a  recent Facebook post from Gaza, Rudoren’s bosses are getting her a social media tutor.  Margaret Sullivan, the NYT readers’ rep first explains the latest faux pas:

More recently, during the Gaza conflict, she wrote one Facebook post in which she described Palestinians as “ho-hum” about the death of loved ones, wrote of their “limited lives” and, in another, said she shed her first tears in Gaza over a letter from an Israeli family. The comments came off as insensitive and the reaction was sharp, not only from media pundits, but also from dismayed readers.

Philip Weiss, the anti-Zionist Jewish-American journalist who writes about the Middle East for Mondoweiss, his Web site, wrote “she seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience.”

Ms. Rudoren regrets some of the language she used, particularly the expression “ho-hum.”

Sullivan continues:

Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media 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.

Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step.

The alternative would be to say, “Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.” As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.

Rudoren clearly doesn’t appreciate the power of social media. The degrees of formality and expectations do vary between Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and regular stories. But in the end, every ho-ho-ho, every ho-hum, and every bah-humbug is on the record.

It would be easy to further bash Rudoren and the NYT, but I think the paper’s response deserves credit.

    1. Social media is a reality for journalists everywhere, and the news industry is still learning how to integrate the technology’s real-time opportunities and social interaction/transparency. Rudoren’s can’t be the only reporter getting this kind of help.
    2. The paper isn’t ignoring the problem (unlike the BBC, which insensitively had its Mideast editor do a Twitter Q&A on Rosh HaShanah, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar).
    3. The NY Times is setting a precedent that its staffers Facebook/Twitter activity reflects on the employer (unlike supporters of  Octavia Nasr and Khulood Badawi, who sought to mitigate their controversial tweets by saying the Twitter feeds were personal.  The Beeb’s Wyre Davies is another case in point).

Journalists deserve their freedom of expression too, but when the things they post shake public confidence in their objectivity, expertise, or reputation, questions will be raised about how it all reflects on their employers.

Gawker and the NY Magazine weren’t as kind to Rudoren. And The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald thinks the bureau chief’s being stifled.

What do you think?