As traditional media shift inexorably toward the World Wide Web, pressure grows on reporters and editors to join the great online debate. That way lies danger.
Colter Nuanez was recently fired as sports editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (which prints the Outpost) for comments he posted on the Bobcat Nation message board. According to Jim Romenesko, the go-to online guy for all things media, Mr. Nuanez was fired for comments that included complaints about short staffing and corporate bosses.
“Well Twitter, my disdain for corporate America and my respect for the public’s right to know has gotten me terminated,” Mr. Nuanez tweeted afterward.
Mr. Romenesko knows the hazards of internet posts well. He was an influential media blogger for the Poynter Institute before resigning last year following allegations that he improperly attributed information used on his site.
Mr. Nuanez’s offending comments, according to Mr. Romenesko’s blog, included these sentences: “In newspapers, we are struggling. Bad. You all might not like the decline in coverage, but if it were up to ANY of the sports writers and editors in this state, we would cover EVERY SINGLE THING HAVING TO DO WITH MONTANA to the best of our ability. The problem is, we are all so freakin short staffed, it’s not possible whatsoever.”
To her credit, Chronicle Publisher Stephanie Pressly went to Mr. Romenesko’s website to defend the firing. The remarks Romenesko quoted were not what got Nuanez fired, she wrote.
“That post continued on with two more sentences that contained very disparaging comments, including expletives, about our corporate management,” she wrote. “Another post contained the same sentiments, a different expletive, and disclosed our paper’s profit number, albeit an incorrect one. Colter edited these posts yesterday afternoon but you may be able to find the originals out there somewhere.
“Colter was terminated for violating company policies.”
After further digging, Mr. Romenesko came up with the sentence that may have sealed Mr. Nuanez’s fate: “But you must understand that we are all handcuffed by money-hungry corporate f***ks who want to run newspapers as a business rather than an essential part to maintaining a free-flowing democracy.” I’m not sure who put the asterisks in that sentence, but it wasn’t me.
Unsurprisingly in this changing media world, I learned all of this not from the Chronicle or other traditional media but from Rob Kailey, who blogs under the name of Wulfgar at the A Chicken Is Not Pillage website. Mr. Kailey complained in a November post that the Chronicle hadn’t published his letter to the editor objecting to the firing.
“The only ones he upset were those who expected him to be a mouthpiece for their will to profit, based on journalism,” Mr. Kailey wrote. “Sports journalism no less. Seriously people, if a sports reporter, an extremely good one, can get fired for the ‘policy violation’ of telling the truth of his employment what credibility does any journalism have left?”
Not everyone has been so kind to Mr. Nuanez. Printer Bowler, who teaches at the University of Montana School of Journalism and whose newspaper roots run all the way back to the weekly that his grandfather founded in Scobey, said on the Romenesko blog that Ms. Pressly is “a straight shooter and honorable person who is not vindictive.”
He added, “In this case, we have a totally misdirected rant that solves nothing and offers nothing but the author’s need to vent his discontent all over the digital planet. For a professional, that’s unethical and self-indulgent, not responsible journalism.”
Other commenters endorsed Mr. Nuanez’s sentiments but not his style. A typical comment said that “anyone who’s ever worked for corporate pigs knows you can’t get away with calling them corporate pigs, not to their faces.”
Having flamed at corporate pigs on occasion myself, and received second-degree burns for my trouble, I feel some sympathy for Mr. Nuanez. When you are in the business of getting people to talk for public consumption, then you ought to be willing to talk for public consumption about your own business.
For many journalism organizations, transparency is a one-way pane of glass. What happens in the house stays in the house. What happens everywhere else is news.
The hypocrisy is magnified as pressure grows on the diminishing ranks of journalists to tweet, blog and post. That’s journalism without the brakes on, and it’s easy for frustrated and overworked young writers to go over the line. It’s damn hard even to figure out where the line is.
Colter Nuanez just got a hard lesson in locating that line, at least as it stands in Bozeman, Mont., at the end of 2012. I wish him luck, and better judgment, in the future.