News Column

Reddit's Apology Brings Media Scrutiny

Apr 23 2013 7:47AM

Matthew Keys, a controversy-plagued deputy social media editor at Thomson Reuters, tweeted today that he was fired by the news organization.

His name has not been associated of late with best journalistic practices.

Keys, 26, a one-time web producer for a Tribune Co. Sacramento TV station, was charged last month with helping folks associated with the computer group Anonymous hack into the L.A. Times and change a headline in 2010.

Last week, he was mentioned in a number of stories about social media missteps in the wake of the Boston Marathon explosions.

Most of the focus was on Reddit, the popular site where users generate the content. Reddit users mistakenly named a missing Brown University student as one of the Boston bombers. In the process, they inflicted emotional distress on an already suffering family. (Today, my colleague Andrea Chang reported, Reddit issued a heartfelt apology on its "front page.")

But Keys had made the same mistake as Reddit's amateurs, tweeting on Thursday, "Dispatcher: Suspect 2 is missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi."

According to Philip Bump of The AtlanticWire, Keys' Twitter account was not considered an official Reuters account, as he had been suspended with pay in connection with the hacking charges and was due in court this week.

Sunday, Keys posted a defensive letter about the tweets on his Facebook page. It began: "Dear Every Writer or Editor Who Has Used My Name In a Critical Piece About The Boston Marathon and Scanner Traffic These Past Few Days."

He noted that other social media sites had committed similar errors, and that the "Boston Police Department never put out a press release, nor did they publish a tweet, asking people not to publish information they heard over emergency scanner traffic."

It's not helpful to have an employee under a criminal cloud for activities related to hacking. But a news organization with the power, reputation and reach of Thomson Reuters cannot allow a deputy social media editor or any other kind of editor to evade journalistic responsibility by simply blaring to his 35,439 followers what kind of tips cops are exchanging on their scanners. This is a basic tenet of newsgathering, whether or not the police department in question has addressed the issue in a press release.

It is not clear why Reuters fired Keys, though it would appear he gave them plenty of cause to reconsider his value to their organization. He told Politico that his bosses objected to his coverage of the explosions last week and did not mention his indictment today when they let him go.

"I clearly do not agree with the reasons Reuters cited as the termination of my employment," he told the Times' Joseph Serna today in an email, and added he would elaborate later.

In the aftermath of Boston, most journalists will be doing some hard thinking about how we use social media to glean and disseminate information during a breaking news event. We will look at our mistakes, figure out what we did wrong and how we can avoid them the next time a horrific and fast-moving news event puts us to the test.

At minimum, if this guy pops up again in the news business, he needs a few lessons in journalism basics before he strikes (a keyboard) again.



Source: (c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services