Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron sent a memo to staff on Thursday after he was publicly called out by one of his reporters over a brief suspension she faced after tweets she made following the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
In the memo, obtained by Fox News, Baron stressed how important it is that the staff "feel safe and supported" and that the paper has "invested heavily in security" in recent years, but that their social media activity "can elicit a strong and often deeply offensive reaction from certain individuals."
Felicia Sonmez, the political reporter who stirred up controversy for sharing a report about a rape allegation against Bryant as the news of his death was still breaking on Sunday, had called on Baron to explain why she was suspended for her tweets, a reprimand the paper quickly lifted after facing backlash for putting her on administrative leave.
While he elaborated in the memo on the newspaper's social media policy, Baron did not address Sonmez by name.
"All of you joined The Washington Post because of its established reputation for journalism of the highest quality and integrity... When we cover stories, editors together with reporters and other colleagues agree on an approach that aims to uphold our institutional reputation," Baron wrote. "The coverage of major breaking stories can be especially fraught... The opportunities for missteps are great, and so we studiously seek to avoid them. We count on our journalists -- collaborating on how to pursue a story and working through sensitive issues together -- to ensure that we not only get the facts right but that we get the tone right, too."
Baron acknowledged that coverage "has been complicated by social media" and while social media activity by employees is "welcome," he pointed out The Post's social media policy, which says, in part, that employees' activity reflects "'upon the reputation and credibility' of our newsroom."
"There are themes that run through that policy: (1) The reputation of The Post must prevail over any one individual’s desire for expression. (2) We should always exercise care and restraint," Baron continued. "Especially on the most sensitive stories, we want our coverage to be defined by the reporters and editors who have direct responsibility for it. We count on staffers to be attuned to how their social media activity will be perceived, bearing in mind that time, place and manner really matter. 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."
"This talented staff successfully makes tough calls every day," Baron said. "We often call upon our colleagues to help us make these judgments. In social media, we need to make considered judgments, too -- and consulting colleagues can often be advisable here."
Baron wrapped up the memo by encouraging staff to share their thoughts on the social media policy as part of a "continued discussion."
"I believe that Washington Post readers and employees, including myself, deserve to hear directly from Marty Baron on the newspaper’s handling of this matter," Sonmez said in a statement Tuesday. "Washington Post journalists endeavor to live up to the paper’s mission statement, which states, 'The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.'"
"My suspension, and Mr. Baron’s Jan. 26 email warning me that my tweets about a matter of public record were 'hurting this institution,' have unfortunately sown confusion about the depth of management’s commitment to this goal," she continued.
"I hope Washington Post newsroom leaders will not only prioritize their employees’ safety in the face of threats of physical harm but also ensure that no journalist will be punished for speaking the truth," Sonmez added.