Inside The Washington Post’s Social Media Meltdown
On Tuesday afternoon, Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey tweeted that he was “proud” to work at the paper, a place “filled with many terrific people who are smart and collegial.” Four minutes later, reporter Rosalind Helderman, too, tweeted that she was “proud” to work at the Post, which is “always striving to be better than it was yesterday.” Six minutes later, another reporter, Amy Gardner, tweeted how she was “proud” to work at the paper, followed by other top journalists at the publication, such as Matt Viser, Carol Leonnig, and Dan Balz.
The public outpouring of Post pride—which I’m told political reporters were urging one another to take part in—followed executive editor Sally Buzbee’s memo reiterating workplace policies and promoting collegiality among staff. The memo dropped following a few days at the Post that have been, as one reporter described it, a “clusterfuck.” Dave Weigel, a national political correspondent, is, as of Monday, suspended without pay for the next month after retweeting a sexist tweet last week, which he then promptly unshared and apologized for after a colleague called him out both on the company Slack and publicly. Hours after news of Weigel’s suspension broke Monday, that colleague, political reporter Felicia Sonmez, was urging the paper to take action against a different colleague, Jose Del Real, who on Saturday took aim at Sonmez for “the cruelty you regularly unleash against colleagues.” (He made this point after commending Sonmez for “your bravery in sharing your story,” adding, “I support your fight against retribution for doing so.”)
Meanwhile, in another corner of Twitter on Saturday, Taylor Lorenz—the star Post tech writer and social media lightning rod—was explaining how a “miscommunication with an editor” resulted in an error in a recent Post piece while also hitting back against critics and CNN reporter Oliver Darcy, who was covering the incident.
The Post drama spilling out publicly onto Twitter has upended the newsroom, where there’s no shortage of opinions on the continued fallout. “I think Felicia initially was right—that was a gross Dave Weigel tweet, and we were all grateful she called attention to it,” one Post staffer told me. The problem, the staffer added, was in “continuing to make it an issue and go after more and more colleagues.” And as a reporter said of Lorenz: “Taylor is very talented, but her personal antics frequently overshadow her journalism.”
Sonmez, Lorenz, and Weigel declined to comment for this article.
The social media meltdown has turned the spotlight on Buzbee, who just last week celebrated her one-year anniversary as the paper’s top editor. Staff use of Twitter bedeviled Buzbee’s predecessor, Marty Baron, who took issue with how journalists, including Sonmez, used Twitter, but failed to enact a new social media policy. (Other legacy publications, such as The New York Times, have likewise been tested by the social media use of their reporters—something Dean Baquet talked about often, especially on his way out.) The consequences of that inaction are now falling on Buzbee, as the Post’s social media policy is “so intermittently enforced, or not at all, that it leaves it to the most extreme characters to end up getting us into these kinds of situations,” one reporter said.
In the Tuesday memo, Buzbee stated shared newsroom values and emphasized how employees should treat one another. “We do not tolerate colleagues attacking colleagues either face to face or online. Respect for others is critical to any civil society, including our newsroom,” she wrote. “The newsroom social media policy points specifically to the need for collegiality.”
“In the last year, we have enforced, through conversations, mediation and disciplinary measures, egregious violations of our social media policy, just as we have enforced our overall standards,” Buzbee added. “As we have said, we plan to update the social media policy. Until then, the current policy remains in effect. It states: When it comes to your colleagues, be constructive and collegial: If you have a question or concern about something that has been published, speak to your colleague directly. We respect and do not wish to inhibit any employee’s right to raise legitimate workplace issues. We know it takes bravery to call out problems. And we pledge to openly and honestly address problems brought to us. We moved quickly to show our intolerance for a sexist re-tweet sent by an employee last Friday.”
While a number of Post journalists turned to Twitter to praise the paper, one I spoke to was less than impressed with Buzbee’s memo, as it not only felt like a read-out of preexisting social media policies but also failed to explain the inconsistency—why Weigel had been suspended but not Sonmez or Del Real, both of whom had arguably violated the nondisparagement rule she cited in the email.