Childish sniping, iffy ethics and the sheer lunacy of public feuds expose the human side of journalists. Is that wrong? Raeanne Quinton looked into the emerging trend of newsrooms issuing social media guidelines to reporters for the Ryerson Review of Journalism and recounts some infamous Twitter-battles between Toronto’s Jonathan Goldsbie and Sue Ann Levy.

Childish sniping, iffy ethics and the sheer lunacy of public feuds expose the human side of journalists. Is that wrong? Raeanne Quinton looked into the emerging trend of newsrooms issuing social media guidelines to reporters for the Ryerson Review of Journalism and recounts some infamous Twitter-battles between Toronto’s Jonathan Goldsbie and Sue Ann Levy.

 

Our personal and professional lives will only continue to be more intertwined. People can automatically post what articles they’re reading and what videos they’ve watched before they even post a thought. Looking at Facebook’s new profile layout, Timeline, it only takes one click to see what someone was thinking three years ago: how they felt, what they shared, what parties they showed face at. Some of my sources, friends, lovers — even my mother — has access to that. And if you go by the motto, “Facebook is a graveyard for friends while Twitter is a place for the people you want to know,” then you must ask yourself: what is it that you want people to know about you?

 #Twitterfight took hours of sifting through tweets, trying to find lapses of judgment on journalists Twitter accounts. I don’t know if I’m afraid or excited for Twitter to find a way to properly archive tweets — then everything said is easy to find and easy to hold someone accountable to. When writing this article, one thing became profoundly clear: play your role. In an uncertain time where real and virtual interaction is becoming more interchangeable, don’t throw any curveballs. Be true to yourself as a writer and as a journalist. — R.Q.

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Jonathan Goldsbie is a Toronto civic geek. He bikes everywhere, drinks ethically sourced coffee and likes talking about local indie music in Kensington Market. And, of course, he tweets. Constantly. Over his two-and-a-half years on Twitter, he’s averaged about 35 tweets per day. But somehow, this seemingly harmless dude landed himself in one of the city’s most talked-about Twitter brawls of 2011. Goldsbie is such a prolific tweeter that early this year, many of his followers banded together through the hashtag #goldsbiephone to raise funds and update his “Flintstonian pterodactyl” to a fancy new Android. Armed with a new smartphone, he continues to take joy in calling people out. The Globe and Mail deemed him “loyal to few, loved and loathed in equal parts by many.”

Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy seems to be a member of the loathing contingent. She made it clear in her columns leading up to Pride 2011 that she wanted the city to stop funding Pride if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was to march in the parade. So in March, Levy, who is Jewish, wrote to several Jewish community leaders, urging them to contact councillors and strip Pride Toronto of city money. The letter quickly leaked and, before long, Andrea Houston wrote a story about it for Xtra!, a gay and lesbian newspaper. She quoted city councillor Adam Vaughan: “[Sue Ann Levy] has an agenda. She is on the Ford team. She is doing work for the mayor… Take everything she says in light of that.” The pro-Palestinian organization bowed out of the parade after city hall threatened to pull Pride’s funding.

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When Goldsbie heard about the letter, he was shocked: “I couldn’t believe the email had her Sun signature on it.” So he tweeted, “It can’t be kosher for a full-time newspaper columnist to be campaigning for councillors’ votes on an item about which she often writes.” Levy bantered back and forth with Goldsbie and name-calling eventually ensued, culminating with Levy tweeting, “Thx to Adm Vaughan for calling me influential int Xtra trash piece…and thx to leftist blowhard for showing his true anti-semetic colours.” Goldsbie responded: “You know, I’m pretty sure labelling a public figure anti-Semitic is defamatory, even if you misspell it.” The Sun removed Levy from the Pride beat and while councillors slugged it out over Pride Toronto funding at city hall, she took a trip. She returned and wrote in her column , “I was glad to be in Mexico that week.”

Levy isn’t the only journalist to cause a stir on Twitter. In August 2011, Dave Naylor from the Calgary Sun came under attack for tweeting, “Maybe he’s not dead. Maybe he’s just stiff and needs a good massage,” after Jack Layton’s death. He was referencing a story that broke during the last federal election about the late NDP leader being found in a massage parlour 15 years earlier. Michael Coren, a Sun News television host, tweeted, “Still world hunger. More prayers to Jack please!” Despite many angry responses, Naylor and Coren managed to hold on to their jobs.

Damian Goddard, an on-air host from Rogers Sportsnet, was not so fortunate. The network fired him the day after he tweeted his unenthusiastic opinions about gay marriage in May 2011. (He said he supported “the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.”) And Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs, experienced a similar fate. She tweeted in July 2010, “Sad to hear of the passing of [spiritual leader] Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah…One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Although Nasr tried to explain, saying she respects Fadlallah because he was a proponent of women’s rights, it was of little use. CNN fired her three days later.

Unfortunately for journalists, nuances can’t be explained in 140 characters, which is why news organizations are nervous about Twitter. They would prefer that journalistic bickering, activism and stupid jokes stay private, confined perhaps to the smoky press clubs of yore.

 

This story was originally published by the Ryerson Review of Journalism. Head over to their website to read the rest of the story.