Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, June 11, 2009 9:39 pm

AP reporter busted for saying on Facebook that sun rises in East

Pretty much, anyway:

An Associated Press reporter’s official reprimand over an innocuous comment on his Facebook page has sparked the ire of union officials. They are now demanding that AP clarify its ethics guidelines and are also urging reporters to watch who they add to their friends lists.

“We have seen about six Facebook problems over the last two months, with employees — maybe managers you have as friends — reporting potential issues to management,” union guild chief Kevin Keane wrote in a memo to union members last week. “You must be careful who you allow on as friends.”

Richard Richtmyer, a Philadelphia-based newsman, set off Tuesday’s tempest with a seemingly harmless comment posted to his Facebook profile late last month criticizing the executive management of newspaper publisher McClatchy, whose stock plummeted following a 2006 acquisition of San Jose-based Knight Ridder.

“It seems like the ones who orchestrated the whole mess should be losing their jobs or getting pushed into smaller quarters,” Richtmyer wrote on May 28. “But they aren’t.”

McClatchy, like countless other newspaper publishers, happens to be a member of the AP’s newsgathering cooperative. Had the comment been uttered in real life, it likely would have dissipated into the rank air of a Philly journo bar. But Richtmyer had some 51 AP colleagues as Facebook friends, some of them higher up in the AP food chain. One turned out to be a “mole” — Richtmyer’s description — and the reporter was given a firm talking-to by AP management, who put a reprimand letter in his employment file.

Paul Colford, a spokesman for New York-based AP, declined in an e-mail to address Richtmyer’s case. But he said that “guidance offered to AP staff is that participation on Twitter and Facebook must conform with AP’s News Values and Principles.” That ethics policy says writers “must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. They must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum.”

Obviously, I need to get some disclaimers out of the way first.

One, posting online about your day job is really not a good idea. You just never know what kind of innocuous remark is going to set someone off. (Posting online about my day job was actually part of my day job for a while, and that was some of the most fun I had in a 30-year media career. But, kids, that kind of gig — although growing more common, as it should — remains almost lottery-type rare.)

Second, journalists, for better or worse (and I know people all along the political spectrum who think it’s for the worse), can’t really post online about issues they cover in any way that could be construed as taking a position on the merits of someone’s argument. (That doesn’t mean they can’t take issue with factual assertions that are objectively disprovable, even if a lot of the DC media appear to think that it does.) That’s not a great construct, and I’m pretty sure it won’t always be the one most journalism operates under, but it’s kind of the industry standard for now.

But in this case? We have a reporter saying that management that ran a company into the ground ought to have suffered some consequences for that. He’s saying management must be accountable for a corporation’s performance. And AP believes that this is a “contentious public issue”? I’d thought it had been one of the underlying principles of corporate governance since we’d had corporations.

And call me crazy, but I want my business journalists to understand that idea and be familiar and comfortable with its logical implications. Wait, “want”? I demand it. Anyone who invests in a corporation in any way, shape or form ought to feel the same way.

Reprimand Richard Richtmyer? Screw that. AP needs to not only un-reprimand the guy but also put him in charge of business-news coverage.

One other thing, AP: From a PR standpoint, you really should have just let this go.

An Associated Press reporter’s official reprimand over an innocuous comment on his Facebook page has sparked the ire of union officials. They are now demanding that AP clarify its ethics guidelines and are also urging reporters to watch who they add to their friends lists.

“We have seen about six Facebook problems over the last two months, with employees — maybe managers you have as friends — reporting potential issues to management,” union guild chief Kevin Keane wrote in a memo to union members last week. “You must be careful who you allow on as friends.”

The New York headquarters of the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)

The New York headquarters of The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)

Richard Richtmyer, a Philadelphia-based newsman, set off Tuesday’s tempest with a seemingly harmless comment posted to his Facebook profile late last month criticizing the executive management of newspaper publisher McClatchy, whose stock plummeted following a 2006 acquisition of San Jose-based Knight Ridder.

“It seems like the ones who orchestrated the whole mess should be losing their jobs or getting pushed into smaller quarters,” Richtmyer wrote on May 28. “But they aren’t.”

McClatchy, like countless other newspaper publishers, happens to be a member of the AP’s newsgathering cooperative. Had the comment been uttered in real life, it likely would have dissipated into the rank air of a Philly journo bar. But Richtmyer had some 51 AP colleagues as Facebook friends, some of them higher up in the AP food chain. One turned out to be a “mole” — Richtmyer’s description — and the reporter was given a firm talking-to by AP management, who put a reprimand letter in his employment file.

Paul Colford, a spokesman for New York-based AP, declined in an e-mail to address Richtmyer’s case. But he said that “guidance offered to AP staff is that participation on Twitter and Facebook must conform with AP’s News Values and Principles.” That ethics policy says writers “must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. They must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum.”

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