Well, for all you journalists out there, young and old, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from what happened to Sun-Times reporter Joe Cowley in recent days. Twitter can blow up in your face.
Robert Feder of TimeOut Chicago reports Cowley is on “final notice” following his sexist tweets that went viral Sunday. Feder writes:
Cowley’s reporting continued uninterrupted as his editors ultimately decided to issue a final warning through the guild process. “If he does anything again, it’s pretty much a fireable offense,” a source said.
Cowley may have a job, but his reputation is battered. Cowley has been vilified on Twitter and many high-profile sites, including Deadspin, which started the pounding with the initial posts on Sunday.
Prior to Sunday, Cowley had to be considered a success for what he accomplished via social media. His edgy tweets gave him more than 10,000 followers. He seemed to enjoy provoking and ticking off people.
I actually saw his initial tweet on Sunday morning, where he complained about a delayed airline flight:
Flight delayed because of “Mandatory Crew Rest.” God forbid anyone strains themselves handing out orange juice off a cart for an extra hour.
I then left my computer, and Cowley should have too. From there, a tweet about a “chick pilot” led to him engaging in a Twitter dialogue with sports reporter Sloane Martin. It led to the ultimate tweet that pulled the pin out of the grenade.
@SloaneMartin And when you come back, hottie up that pic a bit more. You look like the Russian icy villain from a 70s Bond movie. XOXO.
Cowley’s “Jimmy The Greek” moment eventually had him taking down his Twitter account. But it was too late. His tweets had gone viral.
What happened to Cowley is why editors are having special seminars about Twitter. They are asking–pleading–with their staffs to be careful about their tweets.
This isn’t a freedom of speech issue. Cowley’s Twitter handle was CST_Cowley. He wasn’t just representing himself. He also was representing the Sun-Times. Its editors don’t want to be known as the kind of paper that uses the phrase: “Hottie up that pic.”
As Feder notes, the Cowley controversy overshadowed news that the Sun-Times actually had an increase in circulation.
The lesson for all you youngsters: Exercise a certain degree of caution when it comes to Twitter. Know there’s a line, especially if you’re representing a news organization. And know that if you cross that line, you are risking your career, and more importantly, your reputation.
Just ask Joe Cowley.