Associated Press: Think before you tweet

Romenesko published a memo the Associated Press sent out after a couple of tweets received negative attention from news consumers. We discussed one of those tweets in the post “#StandWithWendy? The Associated Press Does.” Long story short: the employee who #StoodWithWendy should not have done so. Now everybody gets to be reminded of the standards in play.

From: AP Standards
Sent: Monday, July 15, 2013 11:37 PM
Subject: “From the Standards Center” – Social media and breaking news: avoiding pitfalls

Think before you tweet. It seems simple enough, and it’s a rule of thumb that can prevent the vast majority of missteps that a journalist might make on social networks. But given some recent issues that have come up on Twitter, it’s a good time to review some best practices, courtesy of Social Media Editor Eric Carvin.

Among the recent problems:

* A tweet that a staffer sent from the @AP Twitter account, related to the abortion fight in Texas, included the hashtag #StandWithWendy — a reference to Wendy Davis, a state senator who’s been fighting to block a new abortion law. This was an attempt to get more attention for the tweet, but it clearly violates AP policies on steering clear of opinion or advocacy.

* AP staff tweets related to the Zimmerman verdict largely were very smart and professional, but a lot of critics pointed to a tweet that was critical of the verdict from a former, temporary staffer who was not employed by AP at the time of the tweet. The widespread reaction serves as a reminder of how a single tweet from an individual can affect the greater AP.

Seems ridiculous that AP would be blamed for a stringer’s tweet, but it’s a good reminder to all of us that our social media presence reflects on our various associations (sorry to my fellow Lutherans, St. Louis Cardinals fans and Herb Alpert aficionados).

As for the initial #StandWithWendy tweet, I’m glad that the AP acknowledged its existence and the problems therein. Specifically, the memo says that that there are social media lines that should not be crossed:

 

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#StandWithWendy? The Associated Press does

The Associated Press has a story about the Texas Senate passing a law that would protect some unborn children who had reached five months’ gestation. Or, as journalists always and forever frame it, “sweeping new abortion restrictions.”

So, just how sweeping? Well, not as sweeping as the abortion laws in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Romania, Slovak Republic or France. Or Italy, Poland, Spain or Ireland, for that matter. But more sweeping than Canada, the UK and the Netherlands.

Anyway, the picture accompanying the story has a bunch of protesters and front and center is a woman holding a large crucifix. But it was the tweet that directed readers to the story that got my attention.

There it is above, but it says:

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, who filibustered abortion bill weeks ago, gives closing remarks: apne.ws/1aAU8VN -JM #StandWithWendy— The Associated Press (@AP) July 13, 2013

Or said, I should say. After a bunch of people (including me) reacted with abject horror, the tweet was deleted. I have no idea when the tweet was deleted (though it was at least deleted by the next day or so). As one of the AP’s 2.18 million followers, I can’t really ever recall seeing a tweet from the news organization that was accompanied by a hashtag, much less one that indicates brazen support for abortion rights. (The anti-abortion hashtag for the bill in question was #Stand4Life) One AP follower asked:

Will @AP formally come out tomorrow AM and explain why it decided to #StandWithWendy?

I, too, wanted to see how the Associated Press apologized for its tweet or why it deleted the tweet, a tweet that had to offend the majority of Texans (and Americans outside of newsrooms) who, well, don’t #StandWithWendy (“One of the clearest messages from Gallup trends is that Americans oppose late-term abortion.”) I went back through dozens upon dozens of tweets to see how the #StandWithWendy tweet deletion was handled. Did AP say something? Apologize? Explain itself? If the news organization did, it wasn’t on the AP’s Twitter feed.

Going back into the wee hours of July 13, I did find 35 tweets about the George Zimmerman trial. That got me thinking. I wondered how many tweets AP sent out about another hot-button trial, one that dealt with racism, poor treatment of immigrants, drugs, serial killing of children, abortion-related deaths, obscene health violations, politics and more. I speak, of course, of the Gosnell trial. Here’s the tally for the history of AP tweets that mention George Zimmerman and/or Trayvon Martin and tweets that mention Dr. Kermit Gosnell:

George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin: more than 272

Gosnell: 2

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Power to hype or downplay: On Gosnell and the NYTimes

Many in the media are indicating that they really want to move on from the Gosnell trial that they’ve struggled to cover — or ignored — from the get-go. You’re not seeing much coverage. Earlier this week I came across a small example that demonstrates how media frenzies are fed or squashed. It’s instructive.

Let’s go back to the Winter of 2012. You’ll remember that when a private foundation devoted to fighting breast cancer decided to stop subsidizing the country’s largest abortion provider, all hell broke loose. The media effectively bullied the Komen foundation into reversing its decision under threat of extinction. It led the newscasts. There were unbelievably hostile interviews — praised by media critics — of the breast cancer charity’s founder. The major media got many facts of the case wrong, such as that this decision was “sudden” or that the clinics being funded by the foundation offered mammograms.

OK, so this week, six dozen or so members of Congress signed on to a letter demanding that broadcast networks provide coverage of the murder trial of abortion practitioner Kermit Gosnell. Last year, two dozen senators signed a letter urging the Komen foundation to fund Planned Parenthood.

Let’s compare the media coverage of those two letters. ABC News’ had a story on the Komen letter.

The Senate has added to the pressure on the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Twenty-six Democratic senators today sent a letter to Nancy Brinker, the group’s founder and CEO, urging it to reconsider the decision to cut funding from Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings for the poor.

The Washington Post covered it:

The pressure on the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Foundation to reverse its decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings for poor people — a decision which has caused an uproar among women’s groups and on social media — is about to get significantly more intense. Nearly two dozen Senators are set to enter the fray.

The Los Angeles Times had an article. So did the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, CNN, National Journal, The Hill and Reuters.

That’s just what I found on the first page of Google results for Komen+letter+Senators.

So two dozen lawmakers signing a letter about Komen yielded news coverage from major outlets.

And what does six dozen lawmakers going after broadcast networks for failure to cover Gosnell get you?

Hmm. Well, let’s see. I found two blogs, two pro-life media outlets, and the Washington Times. Further digging brought up an item in the Daily Caller and The Hill. None of these are what you’d call major mainstream media and only one of them qualifies as mainstream media period.

Absolutely fascinating, no?

If you want a story to be big, you can keep feeding it. We know that Gosnell is hot news and that folks have been hungry for updates — and largely denied those updates by the media that control what is and what isn’t a story. This letter-from-members-of-Congress story I’m mentioning is just an update. Just a quick and easy item like the Komen letter was. If it was worth writing breathless reports about the Komen letter, why is this one buried?

I get — I really get — that the media want to just move past this story and hope that people forget. For the sake of the media industry’s credibility and for the sake of civil society, it would be better to just begin covering it rather than leave this dark mark on the record.

And a quick aside. I asked on Twitter about where the Gosnell story was from the New York Times‘ excellent media reporter Brian Stelter. A prolific writer, his most recent headlines include “Robin Roberts Update,” “At Fox News, Less Attention Paid to Gun Debate Than Elsewhere,” “A Pulitzer Prize, but Without a Newsroom to Put It In,” and “A Top Producer Leaves ‘Katie’ for CNN.” I was hoping we’d see him focus on broadcast news’ treatment of Gosnell, since his focus is on broadcast media and that’s a big part of the larger story. So, I tweeted:

Where’s @brianstelter’s look at Gosnell media coverage? He’s had days to work on it, no?

I found his reply just fascinating:

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Media’s Gosnell reputation isn’t going to fix itself

Days after my quest for answers about why the media downplayed abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s abortion trial went viral, we have seen approximately eleventy billion media analysis pieces about the coverage. Many folks have written mea culpas copping to pro-choice bias, ignorance, or other journalistic failures. Some folks have tried claiming that the coverage was really there, usually pointing to either 2011 or the day the trial began (a curious approach, given what we know about the time-space continuum). Others have said that since conservative outlets didn’t cover it (except, you know, they did), that excuses the lack of mainstream coverage. Some folks just reacted defensively, yelled at me and called me names. It really ran the gamut.

What we haven’t seen terribly much of, however, is good coverage of the trial, the abortion industry, regulation of said industry or the larger issues in play. The New York Times hasn’t run anything in days, after one particularly weak story that barely mentioned the trial.

Or take the Los Angeles Times. Let’s take a trip through its search engine. When birth control activist Sandra Fluke was called a bad name, did it think that a story worth covering? Yes, big time:

All (50)
Stories (43)
Videos (1)
Galleries (0)
Photos (6)

What about that Komen/Planned Parenthood dust-up? The East Coast media flipped out about the decision by a private breast cancer foundation to stop funding the country’s biggest abortion provider. Did the Los Angeles Times? Yep:

All (38)
Stories (25)
Videos (5)
Galleries (0)
Photos (8)

What about that Missouri Representative, Todd Akin, who said something very stupid about rape? Uh, yeah:

All (78)
Stories (64)
Videos (8)
Galleries (0)
Photos (6)

So before we look at how the trial of Kermit Gosnell has been covered by the paper, let’s look at how the paper has covered another distant case, one that hasn’t even gone to trial yet. The case dealing with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Oh boy:

All (281)
Stories (165)
Videos (74)
Galleries (4)
Photos (38)

Which brings us to the Times‘ coverage of Kermit Gosnell.

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Politico and Atlantic.com’s turn to explain Gosnell blackout

Earlier I shared what happened when I asked an AP reporter and a Washington Post reporter about their personal Gosnell blackouts.

It was so illuminating that I decided to check out a few other media outlets. I headed over to Politico. Since Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff tried to justify her lack of coverage of the Gosnell trial by calling it a local crime story, I thought I’d add other local stories into my search. Thanks for the idea! So here’s what I found out. Politico‘s search engine pops out 165 results on Trayvon Martin (local crime story in Florida), 94 stories on Komen, 233 on Sandra Fluke and 866 on Todd Akin.

Guess how many stories Politico has published on Gosnell.

Did you guess zero? You win!

I’d love to ask the reporters in question about the shocking disparity but I noticed that the reporters who wrote some of the histrionic Komen coverage aren’t even around any more. Politico is known for its turnover. So I should probably ask editors. Once I figure out who I should talk to (I’m also trying to find Kliff’s editor since she has revealed some problems with her ability to cover this issue) and will let you know how it goes.

Which brings us to my last anecdote. I follow the prolific tweeter Garance Franke-Ruta from Atlantic.com. Her twitter bio says “Senior editor, @TheAtlantic. Your early warning system. Politics, media, breaking.” I know she loved loved loved to tweet about Fluke and Akin and Komen and all that. Couldn’t get enough of it. But I hadn’t seen anything on Gosnell from her. I plugged it into the Alantic.com’s search engine and there was a story about Gosnell! I clicked on it. It wasn’t a story so much as a very brief mention in a lengthy roundup of the day’s news. Back in March.

And that was it. Atlantic.com hadn’t covered Gosnell at all. But did they cover Trayvon Martin? (247 hits) What about Komen? (97) Fluke? (131) Should I ask about Akin? (296). So I asked her about it.

Here’s what she said (before deleting it later):

Hi Mollie. I have not had a blackout on him; I picked up the story in March and expect to do so again at some point.

See if you can find her coverage of Gosnell here. It’s a brief snippet of a New York Times story on Gosnell from the start the trial. It runs 155 words. And the first sentence is wrong (newborn babies aren’t fetuses). But whatever. I think we all must agree with her point. She briefly mentioned Gosnell in a link round-up in March. What more do you people want?

I suggested that a brief mention in a link-fest wasn’t quite on the same par as the top 8 hits (out of, remember, 97) on Komen. Check out these headlines:

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