This morning, I had a thirty minute phone conversation with an editorial manager at Reuters and a representative of Thomson Reuters human resources. I was told my employment with the company was terminated.
There were several reasons that led Reuters to terminate my employment this morning:
– Reuters claims that during my coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, I violated a grievance aired by the company in a written warning issued in October 2012, explicitly that the company “must see immediate improvement in your communication with managers and more discretion in your social media practices.” (The company does not define what “more discretion” is). You can read the full warning here.
– Reuters claims that the same activity violated the company’s “Trust Principles.” You can read those Trust Principles here.
Reuters said it had a problem with the perceived relationship between my Twitter account and their news organization. A Reuters manager said it was troublesome that several people associated my work on Twitter with the company, pointing to my Twitter bio that said I was a Reuters journalist. Reuters’ Twitter Guidelines, which you can read here (this is not an internal document), states that Reuters journalists are always expected to identify themselves as such.
That is a Catch 22 for me. On one hand, I could have removed information from my Twitter bio that said I was a Reuters employee while I was on suspension. However, that would have violated the company’s Twitter guidelines, and would have also violated the October warning that said I failed to identify myself as a Reuters journalist when on Twitter. Instead, I left the bio alone, which the company says created a perception that my work was associated with the company — even when Reuters has released statements and news reports to the contrary.
Reuters acknowledges I complied with their guideline of identifying myself as a Reuters journalist, and a manager acknowledged that the company cannot police perception on Twitter. But the company said it was still enough of a reason to terminate my employment.
I was told Reuters also disagreed with my practice of relaying on Twitter what was broadcast on emergency scanner traffic during a 10-hour period of coverage from Thursday evening to Friday morning.
Reuters said they particularly disagreed with my decision to continue tweeting scanner traffic after several other news organizations had reported a request from the Boston Police Department to not tweet information heard on scanner traffic.
I’ve stated before I was unaware of several media reports sourcing law enforcement regarding scanner traffic. As soon as I learned about the reports, I erred on the side of caution and stopped tweeting information heard over the scanner.
It’s unclear if any law enforcement official or agency reached out to Reuters to make the same request reported by other news organizations, but Reuters has made it clear that it does not need to independently reach out to law enforcement before complying with a request — if CBS News reports it, that’s good enough for Reuters.
Reuters also says tweets that contained “erroneous” information from the wire was “recklesss.” I told the company my tweets were sourced to police and/or dispatch audio. When I asked the manager on call what information was incorrect, the manager was unable to say. I offered to send the company recordings of the dispatch audio from Friday morning so they could match it with information in my tweets. The company, so far, has not taken me up on this offer.
– Reuters is mad I tweeted information from scanner traffic, though the company admits it is unaware if a law enforcement agency contacted them with a request to stop.
– Reuters is mad that supposed “erroneous” information moved on my Twitter account, though the information was appropriately sourced. Any information that wasn’t initially correct, or later turned out to be incorrect (including reports by other news organizations that I aggregated on Twitter), were later corrected with a subsequent tweet, which complies with the company’s Twitter guidelines. (Other Reuters journalists tweeted information that later turned out to be untrue).
– Reuters is mad that I identified myself as a Reuters journalist, because it apparently gave some sort of perception that my work over the past week reflected on the company. Their own policy requires I identify myself as a Reuters journalist. The company has said multiple times that I was suspended from work.
– Reuters is mad that a small percentage of my readers, and readers of other publications, may have assumed my work last week was done on behalf of their news agency, though Reuters has published news articles and issued statements to reports saying I was suspended and not working on behalf the company. They also acknowledge that perception is something they can’t really control, but they’re still mad about it.
I am represented by a union. The union tells me they will be filing a grievance. I don’t have plans to provide play-by-play of that process, but it will take a long time.
After I got off the phone with the company this morning, I tweeted the news that I had been fired. I figured it would be better if the news came from me instead of, say, a Huffington Post reporter.
Immediately, social journalists and news organizations drew a parallel between my firing and a criminal indictment that came down last month. While my suspension was related to the indictment, it’s unclear if my firing had anything to do with it. The company mentioned the suspension several times, but they did not mention the case nor did they mention the indictment.
Still, one has to wonder if they are connected. A company doesn’t typically clear off your desk (as was reported by Reuters) if they have plans to let you return to work. The Tribune Company, at the heart of the indictment that came down last month, is one of Reuters’ largest media clients. The suspension has been political from the start.
I’m fine, though. I still love my colleagues at Reuters. Working there has made me a better journalist. The fourteen months I was employed at 3 Times Square were, so far, the best of my career. My career goal was to make it to the east coast, and my boss took a chance on this goober in San Francisco when he offered me the job last year. For that, I’ll always be tremendously grateful.
True, there were critics of the way I covered last week’s events in Boston, but many other followers on Twitter and Facebook have lauded the coverage, and that means more to me than anything a media pundit writes.
I’ve been in the unemployment boat before. It’s led to better things. A few people have already reached out to me with possible job offers since this morning.