Democracy Dies in Darkness

Erik Wemple | Opinion

Politico editor: We discard 'dozens' of potential hires over toxic Twitter feeds

By Erik Wemple

September 8, 2017 at 6:43 PM

In a social-media workshop with staff members on Friday, Sudeep Reddy, a managing editor at Politico, said that the organization discards "dozens" of job applications and referrals over inappropriate, partisan or puerile tweets. "We are deliberately nonpartisan in the kind of journalism that we pursue," Reddy told the Erik Wemple Blog after the meeting. Politico vets "hundreds" of possible hires per week, said Reddy. "We have found on Twitter feeds revealing insight into how people write."

Politico Editor Carrie Budoff Brown has made a priority of ensuring symmetry between the standards for Politico's published journalism and those applying to staffers' tweets. She took swift action in December after contract writer Julia Ioffe tweeted a vile suggestion about then-President-elect Donald Trump, and an editor resigned after posting addresses for white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

"The power of our work comes from independent reporting — a power that is diluted if we are seen as losing detachment or cheerleading for any type of agenda," Budoff Brown wrote in a memo at the time. At the start of the meeting, the bosses showed a graphic of a recent study that showed a high level of trustworthiness for Politico. Maintaining that perch — or upgrading it — requires propriety on social media, they said.

Staffers at Friday's meeting asked whether it was okay to tweet their opinions about topics such as physical attacks on journalists and white supremacy — i.e., matters that receive and deserve widespread condemnation. "The editors' message was very hesitant: Try to stay away from those things because some of them are partisan," said a source in attendance. Reddy told this blog that the goal wasn't necessarily to warn people off of those topics but rather to refrain from "loosely" opining on stuff "just for the sake of weighing in." The goal at Politico, he continued, "is to convey fact rather than bringing opinions."

Marc Caputo, author of Playbook Florida, fell a bit shy of that standard when, in an August tweetspat, he came up with an inventive way of calling a contributor to the Federalist an "a––hole." Caputo apologized and deleted the tweet. When asked about Caputo's often colorful tweeting, Reddy responded, "I can't talk about individual staffers."

When she was asked about how extensively employees should share information on Facebook, Budoff Brown struck a word of caution. A New York Times article, she said, reported on some of the work done by one of her family members. But she didn't promote the story on social media, says a meeting attendee, over concerns about how it would be perceived.

The session also briefed employees on how to deal with attacks and threats on social media, which these days is an unfortunately handy skill.


Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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