journalism in the age of twitter

It was inevitable — a journalist has been fired thanks to Twitter. Specifically, CNN’s Octavia Nasr, a 20-year reporter, lost her job over these 140 characters: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

Here’s the problem: You can forget landing a journalism job these days if you’re not “social media savvy.” Reporters — for major news outlets, trade and non-profit magazines, entertainment blogs — are expected to tweet, blog, podcast, make videos, etc., in addition to their regular duties. So publications stretch their journalists so thin as to dilute the quality of everything they produce, and then turn around and take a one-strike-you’re-out line on any misstep.

Nasr is being criticized for making a statement too controversial for a format that allows for little context. But her Twitter feed doesn’t exist in a vacuum — any sane person can look at her work as a whole and deduce that she’s not a terrorist sympathizer. And what is she supposed to tweet about? The Middle East beat doesn’t exactly lend itself to lighthearted copy. Amid her full-time TV reporting (and blogging) she’s supposed to produce short, pithy tweets on a thorny topic that aren’t opinionated or cut-and-dried? Good luck.

I try not to spend too much time contemplating journalism’s end of days, but here in 2010, it sure seems like we can’t win.


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