Last week writers here landed on NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren for insensitive comments she made about Palestinian culture on Facebook and in a radio interview. We weren’t alone. The Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, citing a sharp reaction from “dismayed readers” and pundits, has taken up the case (“Problems With a Reporter’s Facebook Posts, and a Possible Solution”). Sullivan judges that Rudoren is fit for the job in Jerusalem but that going forward her (voluble) social media commentary will be edited by a Times editor.
Ms. Rudoren regrets some of the language she used, particularly the expression “ho-hum.”
“I should have talked about steadfastness or resiliency,” she told me by phone on Tuesday. “That was a ridiculous word to use.” In general, she said, “I just wasn’t careful enough.”
Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.
The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.
Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step.
The alternative would be to say, “Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.” As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.
Count me an unhappy reader. I like the transparency of social media, I like to know about reporters’ biases. The Rudoren moment showed us that even reporters for the most prestigious journals are real people with real responses, for better or worse; and I believe that Rudoren’s apprehensions about Palestinian culture are widely shared in the US establishment (indeed, I have admitted my own apprehensions re Islam). In the unfolding of the story, we got to see Rudoren, who is a smart, tough, thoughtful person, respond and evolve before our eyes. Now the Times, worried about its authority being diminished, needs to pull the curtain.
Chimes in Pamela Olson: No more unfiltered thoughts from Mrs. Rudoren– it probably would have happened sooner or later anyway, but it’s a pity. It was a fascinating look into the mind of an establishment journalist just getting her feet wet, unconscious biases and all, revealing things that are supposed to be kept well hidden. It’s always fun to watch the newbies– reporters, politicians, thinktankers– slowly learn the various orthodoxies they must adhere to.