THE IRONY OF JOURNALISTS ON TWITTER

Twitter can change your mind about yourself.

Maybe I am a “terrible writer” and “horrible person” who’s “shameful and disgusting.”

And on Twitter, there’s no worse insult than…

I don’t think there exists a gif that would adequately capture my disgust right now.

Those are other journalists’ recent opinions of me. Hard to argue with their personal beliefs. But this tweet is more than an opinion, it’s an accusation…

Your history of sexually explicit commentary … is inappropriate and often keeps women, young people and PoC out of positions of power and newsrooms.

Whoa!

That’s Hayley Harding, a former board member with the Society of Professional Journalists. I served with Harding a couple years ago.

She tweeted that sweeping claim last week after I called for the removal of SPJ’s president – and SPJ leaders responded by calling me “offensive” for writing about my sex life back in April.

I’ve already mused about the ensuing Twitter shitstorm, but over the past few days, I’ve realized just how unjournalistic Twitter makes journalists. They become the very Twidiots they mock in their own coverage, and they ignore their journalism training in the process.

Let us count the ways, using Harding as a case study. She’s not only a former SPJ director, she’s also the Boise City Hall reporter for the Idaho Statesman. A serious local journalist, in other words.

Harding and I had a public Twitter exchange last week – but only glancingly about me. Harding was in the process of doing that Twitter thing I always adore: Getting so angry at your enemies, you turn on your allies.

After SPJ treasurer Matt Hall led a campaign to compel me to remove my sex-life post, Harding (and others) took aim at him.

Hall had co-authored a letter denouncing me, and he announced the creation of an SPJ “code of conduct.” That wasn’t enough for Harding…

SPJ’s lack of response to Michael Koretzky sexualizing children and making explicit commentary about SPJ at is, at best, demoralizing. Nothing has changed. This letter is ignoring the problem is proof. Koretzky should resign.

Harding later added, in a calmer moment, “Matt has long been a board member I deeply respect, even if I don’t like his (lack of) response to this issue.”

This will sound weird, but when Harding picked on Hall, that bugged me more than her accusation I’m “sexualizing children” – because such outrageous hyperbole makes real journalists wince. If you wrote that about a source, without any evidence, you’d likely get sued.

Thus, Harding (and other journalists) who used Twitter to arraign me on child-abuse charges were so unbelievable and so unjournalistic, even journalists I’ve insulted in the past rushed to defend me…

But back to Harding and Hall. I tweeted her a couple simple questions, and while she never answered them, Harding still revealed a lot…

Koretzky: Since I won’t resign, what do you find lacking in Matt Hall’s response? What do you wish he would have said?

Harding: I wish he, along with Alex + Patti, would have outright condemned your history of sexually explicit commentary and acknowledged that is inappropriate and often keeps women, young people and PoC out of positions of power and newsrooms at all. I want an immediate policy to stop it.

I ignored Harding’s claim that a minor-league business editor like me is somehow oppressing “women, young people and PoC” and focused on how she’d restrict a journalist’s speech…

Koretzky: What would this “immediate policy” say? I think that’s the hangup.

Harding: I think it should probably forbid sexually explicit commentary tied to the organization, as a start, with specific repercussions for members of the board who violate such policies.

Koretzky: So this would apply only to the SPJ board? Not ordinary members? What “repercussions” are we talking about?

Harding: While I do think board members should be held to a higher standard, this whole thing feels like this is something the current board could discuss as a group much more effectively than I could in a twitter thread.

How precious. Hayley slings accusations, demands action, but proposes no solutions. Any journalist who’s ever been harangued on Twitter knows the feeling: “Hey, your story sucks!” “OK, how should I fix it?” “Not my problem!”

Koretzky: So you “want an immediate policy” but don’t know what should be in it. Fair enough. You also want me “outright condemned.” What would that look like?

Harding: Koretzky, I know what I’d like in a policy. I just don’t think it’s my job to write a whole proposal over Twitter when you’re the one who says you would have quit SPJ long ago if it weren’t for the sex. And I want you publicly asked to resign. I don’t think that’s a secret.

Koretzky: I can’t be the first college student who joined a club because he liked a girl. If that’s a violation of your code of conduct, what a low (and dangerous) bar. And if the board did ask me to resign, I wouldn’t. So we’re back to the question: What would you do then?

Harding: You know that joining a club because you liked a girl is not the issue here, Koretzky. You have a long history of sexualizing SPJ and journalism at large. It’s disgusting and unnecessary, and it should stop.

Koretzky: I honestly don’t know how I’ve been “sexualizing SPJ.” But I’m not arguing about it. I’m trying to learn what exactly you want done about it. I’m not resigning, so what do you want SPJ to do?

Harding: I want SPJ to ensure the organization, and the board in particular, is a place where people who share stuff like this don’t thrive. As I’ve said previously, it alienates people.

Harding retweeted this as evidence…

…which is the title slide from my college convention session called “10 Secrets of Very Sexy Editors.” You can see the full image atop this post. Not sure how it alienates anyone, but the funny part is: This seemingly upbeat tweet is from Alex Tarquinio – the SPJ president I tried to oust, and who signed the letter calling me offensive. But maybe by “arresting graphics,” she meant I should’ve been arrested.

Koretzky: OK, that image offends you. So under your policy, what would happen if I shared it? How would you keep me from thriving? At some point, you can’t criticize Matt Hall’s efforts without saying what you would do instead.

Harding never responded… 

Koretzky: It’s been a few days, so I guess your silence means the end of this chat. To sum up: You accuse me of “sexualizing children” and demand SPJ do something to ensure I “don’t thrive.” But you offer no proof or ideas. How journalistic of you.

Conclusion: Twitter makes journalists dumber.

Addendum: sexy presentations

About that convention session called “10 Secrets of Very Sexy Editors”…

In 2017 – three years after current SPJ president Alex Tarquinio saw it and apparently liked it – a college journalist emailed me that she was offended by both the name of the session and the title artwork.

I asked her why, but she never replied. So I asked other young women. As an old white guy who’s not easily offended, I know I’m likely to miss what offends others.

I didn’t get much feedback, other than no one was bothered: The name of the session is an obvious (although admittedly cheap) gimmick, and as one young female journalist told me, “If you had only the woman and not the man, then that would be problematic.”

So I asked a friend who’s a member of a private Facebook group called Riot Grrrls of Journalism. Many in the group were indeed disturbed by the barely clothed couple, so I changed the image to the one above. But that wasn’t enough…

…so I ditched the whole thing.

I renamed the session and redesigned the artwork. Why? Because it wasn’t worth arguing about. The guts of the session didn’t change, so it was an easy fix. Now it’s called…

So if I’m willing to do all this, why not take down that “offensive” post about my sex life? Three reasons…

1. No one has to read it. A convention session is right in front of your face. On this blog, you need to go out of your way to get offended. Which apparently, some people love to do.

2. It’s not one specific change, it’s vaguely the whole thing. While I don’t agree with Riot Grrrls of Journalism that, in the image above, “these two journalists are fucking,” it took 10 minutes to change one slide and one title. When I asked Hayley Harding and her pals what I could change in my sex-life post to appease them, the answer was: Resign.

3. It’s not offensive. After consulting people I trust more than myself, I simply disagree with a couple dozen journalists on Twitter who have echo-chambered each other into believing the nation’s journo-industrial complex believes I’m a child molester.

So here’s a conclusion that Hayley Harding will definitely hate: I’m more nuanced about this shit than she is.