It’s been almost two weeks since I sent an email to St. Louis Post-Dispatch social media editor Kurt Greenbaum asking if he would allow me to interview him by phone.
He has yet to respond, proving that he has as much business being the paper’s social media director as I have in protecting police from Constitutionally minded photographers.
In case you missed the original drama, Greenbaum became a victim of what one website described as the “internet hate machine” after he got a man fired for writing a profane word on his blog.
The offensive word was “pussy.” It was a response to Greenbaum’s post asking what was the “craziest thing you’ve ever eaten.” It was obviously meant to be a joke.
From the commenter’s IP address, Greenbaum discovered that he was working for a local school. He called school administrators, who ended up tracking down what computer the man was using and confronted him.
The man ended up resigning on the spot, obviously doing so to avoid getting fired.
Greenbaum then bragged about it on the newspaper’s blog, probably expecting all his readers to congratulate him on keeping law and order.
But it ended up backfiring on him.
More than 99 percent of the commenters were outraged against Greenbaum for using his power as a newspaper editor to get a man fired, especially when the man was under the impression that he was commenting anonymously.
Greenbaum’s decision not only went against social media standards, but it went against journalistic ethics.
So after the fiery responses from his readers – not to mention a few posts by yours truly – Greenbaum ended up not writing anything under his byline for more than a month, which is another social media blunder (he’s committed at least three from this list).
After weeks of not hearing anything from him, some of us speculated as to whether he had lost his job. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch refused to confirm or deny our speculations and the rest of the mainstream media ignored the issue altogether.
And then, five weeks after the original incident, he reappeared on his blog as if nothing had happened. Even going to the point of writing about the loss of jobs in Missouri, failing to mention that one particular job loss he was responsible for.
And just recently, he was asked to speak before a Society of Professional Journalists luncheon as an “expert” on, get this, how newspapers should manage offensive comments.
This is how the SPJ press release reads:
If there ever were doubts about whether the public has opinions about the news, the arrival of online reader comments has dispelled them. They do, and they aren’t afraid to post them online, usually anonymously. Sometimes those views are insightful, but sometimes they’re insensitive and occasionally they’re downright offensive.
How should media outlets manage this new forum and where should they draw the line on what’s allowed?
A group of experts will discuss the brave new world that is “story comments” at a luncheon and forum, sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of SPJ, at noon Thursday, Jan. 14, at Lucas Park Grille on Washington Avenue. Lunch is $10, which includes drink and tip.
Kurt Greenbaum, assistant city editor and online editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he has worked since 2002. Kurt’s been involved in online journalism since 1996 and has been a reporter and editor at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and dbusiness.com, an online business news start-up.
Jim Shrader, publisher of The (Alton) Telegraph. Jim, a native of Madison, began his newspaper career in 1979 at the Granite City Journal. In 1980, he joined the Belleville News-Democrat as an advertising account executive. In 1989, he became advertising director for The Telegraph. In 1992, Jim became publisher of the The Times-Reporter in Philadelphia, Ohio. In July 1998, he became publisher at The Telegraph, which recently was involved in a court battle over revealing the identity of online comments.
Dr. Musonda Kapatamoyo, who teaches writing and design for the Web, multimedia use in mass media, advanced multimedia, new technology and media, and information technology and society at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. His research interests include use and impacts of information and communication technologies; creation, use and impact of Web 2.0 for ubiquitous learning; and political economy of media.