Fired over a tweet, Octavia Nasr says journalists need protection from social media flame wars

Social media are easy to use, but those quick tweets and status updates can be dangerous for journalists who want to keep their jobs.

As more journalists get reprimanded or fired by employers over social media, former CNN correspondent Octavia Nasr told IJNet in an interview that employers should hold employees accountable to company standards and practices–not to the negative publicity their social media activities may generate.

In 2010, Nasr’s opinionated tweet from her official CNN account about the death of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah ended her 20-year career at CNN.

Though social media led to her ousting, Nasr still embraces it. Shortly after parting ways with CNN, she established Bridges Media Consulting which specializes in newsroom management, journalism training and social media integration.

Nasr, who says the most important milestone for Bridges is to “actually be operational,” talked to IJNet about the controversy and the pitfalls and possibilities of social media for journalists.

IJNet: What would you do differently today if you were to write that tweet about Fadlallah?

Octavia Nasr: I wouldn’t send out the tweet at all. It was not an important tweet to start with in the big scheme of things. I was on vacation, I shouldn’t have been thinking about work or sending the tweet out about Fadlallah or his relevance.

If I must tweet, I would’ve tweeted that he passed away without any extra information. Let people find out on their own who he was and what his worth was. I tried to put too much information into 140 characters while the story needed a lot of context. By doing so, I opened the door to a small but powerful and effective group of agenda-driven people to attack CNN through me.

IJNet: How did the controversy with CNN change your views on social media and how you advise your clients?

ON: It did not change anything. Quite the contrary, it confirmed all the things I already knew and was teaching (and still teach) to others about social media. I became a living example of the successes and perils of social media.

What happened with me can happen with anyone at any time, it was not what I tweeted or how I tweeted it, it was the reaction to my tweet and CNN’s response to that reaction that led to CNN and I parting ways. This is only an excuse that anyone can pull at any time and people need to be ready for it if they are using social media on behalf of their employer or any other entity.

IJNet: The social media policies for major media organizations range from very restrictive to pretty open — from “watch the retweets” (AP) to just “don’t be stupid” (BBC) – what do you think is the right balance?

ON: The right balance is to act on social media exactly the same way you do in real life knowing very well that your tweet is a permanent record. Use restraint and don’t share unnecessary information that might come back and haunt you. Of course “don’t be stupid” and “watch the retweets” are the extremes that one should avoid at any cost, but it’s the wide margin in between that concerns me and where I find most users are vulnerable.

The problem is not what you say or what you mean but rather how people perceive it, analyze it and deal with it that concerns me a lot. An innocent comment that is attacked by a major organization or group all of sudden will sound “stupid;” but if no one complains about it passes without incident. On the other hand, a major offense can go unnoticed and unpunished because no one complained about it or because those complaining do not have muscle.

The point I like to stress to employers is that they should hold their employees accountable to the company’s standards and practices not the level of support or condemnation their tweets receive. Not all complaints are fair and not all cheers are warranted. The company should lead based on its policy and it should act according to its code of conduct and ethics not the public’s reaction or outcry. On the other hand, to employees I stress that they should get their employer’s commitment in writing that in the case of controversy or complaint, their right to fair investigation is preserved.

Without an upfront commitment from the employer to stand by and protect employees from astroturfing and negative publicity, my advice to employees is not to use social media on behalf of their employer, period.

This Q&A is the first in a two-part interview with Nasr. You can follow her on Twitter and read more about her on her personal website.

A journalist and new mom on the potential of Instagram

Lately, I’m struck by the massive potential that the iPhone photo app Instagram provides for journalists worldwide.

See, these days I’m into photos, especially baby photos, or to be more precise, twins photos.

When I had my twins last October, I wanted to document every step of their growth by taking pictures–lots and lots of pictures.

Instagram provided the perfect venue for posting and sharing my baby snapshots. Not only did it offer a variety of artistic photo filters to choose from, but it also provided interaction and sharing capabilities, whether you share with friends you already know or connect with other Instagrammers who share similar interests.

These features are bound to advance photojournalism in a massive way, especially when crowdsourcing is introduced. We’ve seen some of this potential with citizen journalists using the app to cover the London riots and Russia’s recent elections. CNN’s iReport frequently features Instagram pictures from its citizen journalists who cover timely events.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when ABC World News asked its Instagram account followers to post pictures of their twins using the hashtag “#wntwins” for the chance to be featured on a news segment airing that night.

Of course, I jumped on the opportunity and flooded the space with pictures of my dynamic duo. There were pictures of my twins napping, my twins playing, my twins eating, you name it. My portraits weren’t selected, but my effort was not for naught: I managed to connect with other parents of twins whose pictures I continue to enjoy.

For news organizations, this represents a powerful opportunity to build community and brand loyalty.

I think the next step should be for news outlets to partner with Instagram to create a monetized system in which citizen journalists and Instagram split the costs of photos the news organizations buy. Photo news service Demotix provides a similar system, but it is mostly for traditional photographers and not for those who solely use iPhone cameras.

I believe if this system was introduced it would transform photojournalism in a major way. News outlets will be flooded with photos submitted by their Instagram correspondents around the globe, while citizen journalists will get the opportunity to make some money as well as get recognition.

Every time I take and upload a picture of my twins, I sing Instagram’s praises and think about the many ways it can transform photojournalism. For now, I will leave this for you to ponder while I go chase the twin.


*This article was originally published on the International Journalists Network.

Six tips for journalists on using Facebook for reporting

facebookBy Natasha Tynes

How can journalists tap into the power of Facebook to crowdsource reporting and interact with readers? The average users spend an estimated “25 minutes daily on Facebook,” according to Vadim Lavrusik, Journalist Program Manager at Facebook. How can news organizations and journalists raise user engagement?

IJNet attended a recent Facebook Journalism Meetup held at the American University in Washington, DC to answer these questions. The meetup featured a presentation on “Facebook and Social Journalism” by Larvrusik and a panel discussion with Ian Shapira from the Washington Post, Mandy Jenkins from the Huffington Post, Bryan Monroe from CNN and Laura Amico from Homicide Watch.

Here are our top six takeaways.

1. Open a personal page on Facebook. Separate your personal life from your sources. A good example of how journalists use Facebook pages to interact with readers is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Click here to open your personal Facebook page.

2. Don’t forget to use the Search option on Facebook. You can see what people are talking about in real time with public status updates.

3. Use the direct message feature. Don’t be afraid to direct message people you don’t know who might be a source for the story you are working on. People might respond to you and not to other journalists simply because you connected to them on a personal level using a platform they are very familiar with: Facebook. Laura Amico from Homicide Watch said that some of the victims’ families that she connects with prefer to talk with her via Facebook Chat instead of over the phone.

4. Avoid automated feeds and update your Facebook page manually. According to Lavrusik, “automated feeds get two to three times less engagement than manual feeds.”

5. Use the newly launched Facebook Questions for higher audience engagement. A good example is how NBC’s Dateline asked their fans on Facebook last month to vote on the episode that they wanted to watch. Keith Morrison’s “The Haunting” earned the most votes and aired that week. Click here for more information on Facebook Questions.

6. It’s all about apps. Facebook provides a number of free useful apps including the Live Stream box, the Contact US form, Facebook Insights, among others.

Facebook recently announced plans to reach out to journalists by providing them with training on how to better interact with their audience via Facebook. The page Facebook+ Journalists, run by Facebook employees, serves as a community for journalists on Facebook and provides useful resources.

This post originally appeared on the International Journalists Network.

Looking East: Media outlets offering tweets, services in Arabic

As the world watches the unprecedented developments in Egypt, which was dubbed “Revolution 2.0,” a number of media outlets and social media sites have also taken their own unprecedented steps by offering their services in Arabic for the first time. From Tweeting in Arabic to translating content, it looks like the Web is looking East these days, embracing the Arab World as a key target audience.

Twitter's first Arabic tweet
Twitter's first Arabic tweet

Just last week, the social networking site @Twitter tweeted from their official account their first tweet in Arabic. The tweet linked to a list created by Twitter with suggestions for people to follow on Egypt. The list contained the Twitter accounts of Egyptian journalists, activists, and celebrities among others. The reaction to Twitter’s Arabic post was mixed. Fayrouz Zghoul tweeted:

#Mubarak will speak in 10 minutes .. History is changing and Twitter is speaking Arabic!”

Dubai-based report David George-Cosh tweeted:

“Dear @Twitter – Now would be a pretty opportune time to launch Twitter in Arabic. #justsaying

Meanwhile, Twitter user Martin E was not pleased by the move:

“I Just unfollowed @twitter I don’t take kindly to arabic on my screen.”

Also last week the New York Times posted their first tweet in Arabic in which they asked for sources in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Vadim Lavrusik, a digital media journalist who writes for the social media blog Mashable said on his Twitter account:

“The @nytimes just sent their first tweet in Arabic. Wonder if news orgs will try this on social more often.”

The London-based newspaper The Guardian is also among those embracing Arabic content. Recently, the newspaper started offering a translation of some of its web articles in Arabic. They also Tweeted in Arabic to announce the launch of this service. It is also worth noting that also last week the US State Department has launched their own Arabic Twitter feed using the account @USAbilArab, which translates into “US in Arabic.”

It will be worth keeping an eye on this and see who will embrace the Arabic content next. As news from the Middle East is not showing signs of slowing down any time soon, I’d expect to see more international media outlets localizing more of their content to reach a wider Arab audience. Overall, it is definitely a good time to be an Arabic speaker.

Assimilation: The journey of a thousand miles starts with ‘Snooki’

I just got back from an eight-day trip to California where I embarked on a journey of discovery. As an East Coaster, I wanted to understand that foreign part of the country, home to the “chilled”, the “pot-smokers,” the outdoor enthusiasts, and the technology-savvy.

My husband and I along with friends we stayed with and met along the way, traveled from the deep south of California all the way to San Francisco. I saw and learned a great deal. I saw pot smokers on Venice Beach and Haight Ashbury. I yelled with the joy to the sight of seals swimming to the shore on La Jolla Beach. I visited Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. I learned about the intricacies of the Hollywood culture in LA, and drove around celebrity homes in Beverly Hills.

Medica Marijuana in Venice Beach, California

I saw this journey of discovery as part of my Americanization, of my deep understanding of the country that I now call home, the country that granted me citizenship and provided me with many things that I remain grateful for. But while on the trip, my friend who uses the alias Jameed, jokingly told me while we were running around LA: “You are not assimilated, you are too busy eating Hummus and pita bread.”

His comments came in response to my failure to engage in conversations about popular culture, or to be more specific about the increasingly popular American reality TV shows.

I had no idea who “Snooki” was. (For those unassimilated like myself, Snooki is a star of an MTV reality TV show called Jersey Shore). I also had no idea that Kim Kardashian had sisters, and even failed to recognize the names of Lady Gaga’s latest songs (Knowing the song Telephone didn’t save me). I also couldn’t recognize many of the names of celebrities that my friends were tossing around when we went to visit their presumed houses in Beverly Hills with the help of the famous “celebrity map”.

My friend’s joke about my lack of assimilation hit me like a brick wall. After years of me trying to make it in this county, by getting a job, buying a house, voting in the primaries and even joining interest groups on Meetup. com, apparently I’m still not there yet. Mind you, my friends who knew all about Snooki include a PHD-holder, a business owner, an electrical engineer, a famous author and a pharmacist. Yes, they are the smartest, highly educated, and obviously completely assimilated.

Twitter headquarters in San Francisco

My friend’s comment about my lack of assimilation brought memories when I ran into Renee Zellweger at a Starbucks in New York a few years ago and instead of jumping up down and saying: “OMG, this is Renee Zellweger!”, I approached her and told her: “You look familiar, are you on TV?” I completely blanked out on her name. I just knew she was on TV. Another incident that comes to mind proving my “lack of assimilation” per say is when two people asked me about my reaction to the marriage break-up of Kate and her husband (sorry can’t remember his name) from Kate and someone Plus Eight TV show and of course, I had no idea what they were talking about.

So here, you have it, I’m not assimilated, but really when do those assimilated people have the time to keep up with the integration process when we are all busy with our daily rat race. How do they do it? Do they live a life similar to mine? Do they come back home at 7:00 PM and cook dinner while listening to NPR?

Do they check their Twitter feed and keep up with their followers while worrying about their Klout Score as much as they worry about their credit score? Do they fall asleep on the sofa while trying to watch the latest episode of Law and Order (here is some assimilation for you).

Maybe, maybe not. I really don’t know. All I know is that I have to do something about it. I have plans: I will do the assimilation my way: I will update my RSS feed to include some entertainment blogs. I will stop listening to the oldies on the radio and switch to DC mainstream music channel, DC 101. I will also Google “Jersey Shore” to see what the fuss is all about.

I have many plans. I need to stop living on the fringe, with my head buried in my daily shenanigans. Apparently traveling thousands of miles to California to consummate my assimilation process is not enough. I definitely need to know who Snooki is.