Was longtime CNN reporter Octavia Nasr fired this week because she violated CNN's "social media policy" when she tweeted a political opinion? Or because of the opinion she expressed? TBI's Joe Pompeo reports.
"A leader in integrating social media with newsgathering and reporting, Nasr's latest reporting on the elections in Iran and their fallout served as a backdrop to showcase her expertise in both traditional as well as social-media-driven content."
Granted, the tweet that did her in was one lamenting the death of a leader of Hezbollah, which the U.S. government recognizes as a terrorist organization. "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot," she wrote.
Nasr subsequently apologized for the remark, clarifying in a blog post on CNN.com that she did not support Fadlallah's life's work, which includes the support of suicide bombings against Israel, but rather his "pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights." She also wrote that she had learned "a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East."
It's an issue that's resonating throughout the media world as more news organizations put pressure on their journalists to use social media — Twitter in particular — as a way to promote their work and create a brand around their bylines.
It is not clear, however, that Nasr's Tweet violated CNN's social media policy.
A CNN spokesperson told us that the network has had a specific social media policy in place since November 2009, which was announced in a staff memo at the time. He declined to provide details on the policy or comment on whether Nasr had violated it. (The official line for Nasr's termination is that her tweet "did not meet CNN's editorial standards" and that her "credibility ... has been compromised.")
Asked if CNN would re-visit or amend any aspects of the policy because of Nasr's situation, the spokesperson said: "We're always looking at our guidelines."
The network's current social media policy was an outgrowth of a previous internal document, issued in August 2008 (a few months after CNN fired senior producer Chez Pazienza for keeping a personal blog) that explained the rules for "personal writings online." Here's what that policy, which was drafted before Twitter had become as influential as it is today, said about social media (emphasis our own):
Again, on these sites only write about something CNN would not report on. Don't list preferences regarding political parties or newsmakers that are the subject of CNN reporting. Local issues that CNN wouldn't report on would be OK. And of course private communication with friends or family about issues that aren't in the news is fine. If you are not sure, ask your supervisor or S&P for parameters on posting. (S&P contact info is listed below).
Also keep in mind that you should not be commenting or writing about what goes on in the workplace at CNN without specific approval by CNN senior managers. For example, in some cases there have and will be exceptions made to have some staff get information out to an outside audience on platforms like Twitter about our upcoming coverage plans.
But without those approved exceptions, your workplace activity is proprietary and so you should not be writing on these sites about what goes on behind the scenes here at CNN.
We'd love to know what the more recent policy says. (Drop us a line if you have it!) Meanwhile, we suspect Nasr was fired because the sentiment she expressed in the Tweet was grossly offensive to many of CNN's constituents. In other words, the termination has nothing to do with social media, editorial standards, or, for that matter, credibility. It's too bad the network can't just say that.