George Solomon considers the perils of social media


George Solomon considers the perils of social media
Feb 17, 2020

The warning every semester to Merrill College students regarding their use of social media is simple: “What you put out there stays there.”

It’s a cautionary warning ignored several years ago by a sports journalism hopeful who lambasted a Fox Sports broadcaster in a tweet that rightfully angered the broadcaster. The broadcaster’s reaction to the salvo was to place all Merrill College students on the “avoid” list for his Fox employers – until a direct apology given on behalf of the college.

In this era of the 24-7 news cycle, with reporters using twitter and other social media platforms with the regularity of brushing one’s teeth, danger seems to lurk daily. The latest major example occurred Jan. 26 when a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others, including the pilot, crashed in Calabasas, CA., killing all on board.

Very soon after the crash, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted a link to a previously published story about a sexual assault case against Bryant that was settled out of court. So soon, with the helicopter still burning, critics of Sonmez wondered.

The next day, The Post placed Sonmez on administrative leave for the tweet that the newspaper noted “displaying poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” The next day – after protests from Sonmez’s colleagues at The Post – the newspaper reinstated Sonmez, saying her tweets were “not in direct violation of its social media policy.”

Several days later, The Post’s Executive Editor, Marty Baron, in a memo to his staff, stated: “Coverage should be defined by reporters and editors who have direct responsibility for it. “ He added the policy “calls for staffers to keep in mind that social media reflects upon the reputation and credibility of our newsroom.”

The newspaper’s guidelines for using social media, provided to the Povich Center, request that employees “maintain credibility, avoid real or apparent conflicts, be professional, promote transparency, look before you link, think in real time and mind the medium.”

It’s good advice and might have avoided some of the pitfalls even the best of journalists have succumbed.


The news of community newspapers closing around the country, including several in the Washington suburbs, continues to be distressing, as well as Seattle-based media company Maven cutting the once weekly Sports Illustrated to 16 issues in 2020. The magazine, for years a weekly publication that was the standard for sports journalism in the country, laid off 40 staffers in October, moving to additional use of freelancers covering team beats.

A letter to readers from its editors to start the new year said: “This is the first of 16 issues of SI you’ll see in 2020, including the Swimsuit Issue and standalone previews focused on football, the NBA, baseball and the Olympics. You’ll see heavier, brighter paper that showcases our trademark photography. And you’ll see pages full of stories that have been synonymous with SI since 1954: in-depth features, probing profiles, sharp investigative journalism-produced by the best writers in the business. Like the Super Bowl, Sports Illustrated is a living, breathing, evolving institution—always building and growing beyond what it was before.”

Like a broken record, I only wish Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford and Bill Nack were still around to have a cocktail and chew over the above letter.


Trying to avoid being too maudlin in my final semester of teaching at the Merrill College and writing this column for the Povich Center’s website, I nevertheless note the passing of two of the greats in sports journalism: Seymour Siwoff and Roger Kahn.

Siwoff, founder of the Elias Sports Bureau, died Nov. 29, 2019, at the age of 99. He ran the bureau for 67 years, keeping the statistics for Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, before computers, spread sheets and analytics. If you wanted to check a record or statistic, you called Elias and Siwoff answered the telephone. Himself. And within two minutes you had an answer. No roto calls for Seymour. No one got put on hold.

Kahn, the author of dozens of sports books, including the 1971 classic “Boys of Summer,” died in early February at 91. Kahn was a wonderful writer, who went back to visit many of the players from the Brooklyn Dodgers team he covered 20 years before as a 24-year-old reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. In his obituary of Kahn in The New York Times, Bruce Weber wrote the book was “the most influential a baseball book “ written in the last 50 years.

For 17 years, I bored my students with this one page from the book about third baseman Billy Cox, whom Kahn visited in a small Pennsylvania town’s V.F.W hall late on a boozy Saturday night, with a drunken woman, using her purse, hitting Cox, who was playing pool.

“No one present,” Kahn wrote, “I thought, except myself, witnessing this 2 a.m. talk, the ugly woman clouting the sodden man, could have realized that this broad-shoulder, horse-face fellow tapping billiard balls, missing half a finger on one hand, sad-eyed, among people who would never be more than strangers, was the most glorious glove on the most glorious team that ever played baseball in the sunlight of Brooklyn.”

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