Washington Post Executive Warns Staff About Social Media Use After Reporter's Kobe Tweets

Martin Baron, the Post's executive editor, told staff in an internal email that it's "not always easy to know where to draw the line."

In an email sent to The Washington Post’s staff on Thursday, the newspaper’s executive editor, Martin Baron, said social media has made news coverage “complicated” and warned that employees’ activity on those platforms reflects the Post’s reputation.

“It is not always easy to know where to draw the line,” Baron wrote in the email, obtained by CNN. “That’s a matter deserving of thoughtful discussion ― along with how The Post should respond when the line is crossed.”

It is unclear when Baron’s email was sent to the staff, but it was apparently prompted by the controversy over the newspaper’s decision to suspend national political reporter Felicia Sonmez after she tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast article about rape allegations made in 2003 against NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday, the day of his death.

The email also addressed the safety risks posed to staff who use social media and the company’s efforts to increase security.

After tweeting about Bryant’s rape allegations, Sonmez said on Twitter that 10,000 people had sent her “abuse and death threats.”

“Please take a moment and read the story — which was written 3+ years ago, and not by me,” she tweeted. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and that totality is unsettling.”

Sonmez was placed on administrative leave Monday, though it was reportedly lifted on Tuesday after the paper’s management said the journalist’s tweets were “ill-timed” but not “in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.”

“We do not want social media activity to be a distraction, and we do not want it to give a false impression of the tenor of our coverage,” Baron also said.

Tracy Grant, the Post’s managing editor, initially told Sonmez to take her tweets about Bryant down and Baron told her in an email to stop, The New York Times reported.

“Felicia,” Baron wrote to her, according to the Times. “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” 

The tweets were taken down, though Twitter users took screenshots of them.

The executive editor’s email to the staff did not include an apology or express regret for Sonmez’s suspension.

Baron said that the paper was in the process of revamping its social media policies, which were created in 2011.

HuffPost has reached out to the Post for comment.

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