Quote: WaPo Ombud Weighs in On Mike Wise Suspension

But at its core, what Wise did isn’t about social media. It’s about fabrication, which is indefensible, even if done in jest. Our business is truth. A journalist’s falsehood on Twitter is the same as a falsehood in the paper.

~Andrew Alexander, Washington Post Ombudsman, on why a suspension was warranted in the Mike Wise/Fake Tweeting saga from last week.

Mike Wise, Faking Tweets and Why It’s Not Okay

Cross posted at Sports Grid

Want to make a bunch of sports fans, journalist watch dogs and social media people flip out at the same time? I present to you your new role model: Mike Wise.

Before I launch into a discussion of his antics yesterday, I should say that I actually do appreciate Wise’s writing in my local Washington Post. I read his stuff frequently, and have definitely complimented it within SportsGrid and Mediaite. But I think Wise made a crucial judgment error yesterday when he tried to make Twitter a playground for a inferiority complex display over the way that channel is used surrounding news and rumors.

To catch everyone up, yesterday morning during his radio show on Washington’s FM sports net, The Fan, Wise thought it would be fun to toy with his Twitter followers by posting a few fake rumors. The fake stories were none too salacious (rumors about whether Donovan McNabb would start the Washington Redskins first game, for example), but the one that did take hold and passed around plenty was a claim that Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension would be five games after his meeting with the commissioner later this week.

His motive was to test a theory about what is considered credible and believable on the social status network, that those who have a certain air of authority often are believed fully without further vetting. As he told Dan Levy of Press Coverage yesterday afternoon:

“Bottom line: I picked a lousy way to show we have no credibility in this medium, in the social networking medium, and that nobody checks these things out. It was just not a good way to do it. If i had to do it all over again I would have picked another way.”

That’s the story. And it’s been discussed just about everywhere in the last 24 hours (fellow Post sports writer Dan Steinberg collected most of the responses yesterday evening). Fundamentally, most were upset with Wise for irresponsibly pulling the wool over the eyes of Twitter users, and potentially even using the fake news to drive a growth in new followers. Deadspin got a hold of the “I’m not upset, but I’m disappointed” memo that was passed around the sports staff shortly after the stunt, while others called for Wise’s suspension from the Washington Post.

All of this is well and good, and it looks good for the media organization to try and uphold its pre-set social media guidelines, which are valid. The fundamental benchmark for these guidelines, though, has nothing to do with the channel through which a journalist passes his message. There aren’t different rules for Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare. Regardless of the actual network being used, the Post’s guidelines are about journalism first:

We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.

There is more than one difference between guys like Mike Wise and writers like those I get to join at a blog like SportsGrid. For example, Dan, Glenn and I have all Twitter accounts, but we established these ourselves and no one will really run to the bank on our predictions, no matter what interviews or stories we get here. But for Wise, he gets immediate credibility by way of that Washington Post label – he’s a good journalist, he earned it. And he uses Twitter as a broadcast – look back at his history and you’ll notice little engagement with followers but lots of story streams, often very informed as well.

Wise’s theory was that people on Twitter will trust anything from a credible source, run it without verifying, and he wanted to be able to say how dangerous that could be. What he failed to factor into his experiment was how credibility was earned, which is exactly what he could have jeopardized with his little stunt. Deep down, I’ve convinced myself that Wise wanted to make the famed “blogger in pajamas” point. Instead, he made the “journalists don’t get social media point,” and the evidence of this to me is his “I’m sorry you feel that way,” apology:

He’s only half right on his first point: Mike, nobody checks *your* facts, because you are a sports writer for one of the three most important newspapers in the country. You better believe they will now.

I want to look back at the idea that Wise should be suspended, because I don’t think he should. I feel like he’s a kid who was told not to go climb in a tree, went and did it anyway, and now has a broken arm to show for it. The broken arm is a lesson enough, don’t ground the guy.

Actually, I have a better idea: Instead of squelching Twitter involvement, the Post should force him to take a lesson from guys like Steinberg and engage his followers and those tweeting at him. Maybe if he learned a little more about what conversation is valued, he wouldn’t have had this ridiculous idea in the first place.


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