My Initial Take on Penn State’s ‘Reporter’-Gate (& Mad-Rush-Pack-Mentality Retweeting)

So yesterday I stumbled across a screenshot of an email message and an entirely separate tweet that got me thinking about context and blind acceptance — the latter from the mad-rush-pack-mentality journalism/social media perspective.

As every Romenesko reader and college media geek knows by now, the email screenshot I’m referring to is a private message written by a Penn State University administrator that has gone C-list viral. In the email, the admin. complains about a student journalist who is apparently seeking some info on underage drinking — while trying to dump her request onto a colleague instead of tackling it himself. He also seems to have accidentally hit ‘reply all,’ thus sending the message to the student journalist along with his intended co-worker.

The snippet that landed him in the blogosphere and Twitterverse yesterday afternoon: “If you want to appease a ‘reporter’ who won’t report, feel free. I’m afraid I don’t have the time just now.”

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Boom. In Shakespearean terms, on spec, that is laying the smacketh downeth. I mean, what a jerk! A hack! Another angry official who doesn’t respect the student press!

Or … maybe … just maybe … not so much?

Even though it’s already been blasted out as the perfect teaser for another edition of “Administrators Acting Awful & Rotten,” the email leaves me with more questions than harsh conclusions.

Let’s review what we don’t actually know at the moment about “reporter”-gate. Among the things I’m left wondering: What did the reporter’s email say? What is the history between this reporter — and potentially her news outlet — and the administrator? How has he handled similar requests from journalists in the past? How often does he adopt a sarcastic tone in emails, especially those intended for close colleagues? And why is he being accused — overtly and subtly — of dissing STUDENT journalists overall when at face value his disdain appears directed solely at a single journalist or more generally at reporters “who won’t report”?

Maybe the reporter was an absolute jerk herself in her opening email! Maybe she is asking for way too much information or stuff that can be found much more easily elsewhere. Maybe there is incredibly bad blood between her and the admin’s office that cannot be contextualized in a single screenshot or message snippet. Maybe the administrator is just really sarcastic, especially in private emails to colleagues. Maybe he is known for being ornery, but always handles media requests promptly. Maybe he really does hate reporters, but could care less about the distinction between a student and professional one. Maybe he had a really bad day and was simply venting to a few friends.

Of course, maybe he is just a jerk/hack/disrespectfully awful and rotten administrator. :)

The bottom line is, at present, without more context, we don’t yet know even close to a smidgen of the truth behind what this email snippet means. But that didn’t stop an immediate bad-administrator narrative from being shared and retweeted by lots of folks without a second thought — myself included. Do I regret the retweet? Nah. But this blog post is my second thought.

I spotted the random tweet embedded below hours after “reporter”-gate broke. It was not written in connection with the PSU situation. Replace the word ‘listen’ with ‘examine’ or ‘share’ and you get the gist of what I’m going for here.

P.S. I’ve reached out to the reporter for her take. I greatly respect her and the outlet she works with at PSU, so I’m curious to learn a bit more about what’s what.

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