The New York Times has assigned an editor to oversee the social media use of its Twitter-happy Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, according to its public editor, Margaret Sullivan. This isn’t out of nowhere, considering Rudoren’s history of Twitter-related controversies. What’s interesting is the tone of Sullivan’s explanation:
Start with a reporter who likes to be responsive to readers, is spontaneous and impressionistic in her personal writing style, and not especially attuned to how casual comments may be received in a highly politicized setting.
Put that reporter in one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism – the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times.
Now add Facebook and Twitter, which allow reporters unfiltered, unedited publishing channels. Words go from nascent, half-formed thoughts to permanent pronouncements to the world at the touch of a key.
There had to be a way to phrase that without making Rudoren sound completely inept, right? As New York magazine notes in its headline, this column makes it sound like they’re getting her a babysitter rather than an editor.
Sullivan gets to the larger question:
There is, of course, a larger question here. Do Ms. Rudoren’s personal musings, as they have seeped out in unfiltered social media posts (and, notably, have been criticized from both the right and the left), make her an unwise choice for this crucially important job?
On this, we should primarily judge her reporting work as it has appeared in the paper and online. During the recent Gaza conflict, she broke news, wrote with sophistication and nuance about what was happening, and endured difficult conditions.
This decision by the Times was likely driven by the latest outcry over a Facebook post by Rudoren that described Israelis as “almost more traumatized” by deaths than the Palestinians. Anti-Israel types — which probably includes a substantial portion of Times readers — claimed Rudoren was downplaying the feelings of Palestinians. The Times could have just assigned Rudoren an editor and left it at that. But this column sounds like the paper felt it needed to give an additional mea culpa. It also raises some interesting questions. What observations does the Times feel are out-of-bounds for its journalists to make? And if social media — which is primarily used for quick observations — has to be edited, is there any point for journalists like Rudoren to use it at all?