Last week I read an article about a former MU football player restarting his college football career at Tuskeege. Derrick Washington was kicked off the Missouri football team in 2010 after he was arrested on charges of sexual assault, and less than two weeks later, he was arrested on charges of domestic assault. He was convicted of the sexual assault charge and pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree domestic assault.
In the article I read Tuesday, Washington’s new coach described him as “a good kid who just messed up.” I happen to think “just messed up” is not a fair characterization of gendered violence. So I tweeted about it.
Now, I’m not sure if you clicked on the links to stories about his case. If you did, you might have noticed something: I wrote them.
When Washington was arrested in 2010, I was the crime editor at The Maneater. I wrote the first three stories about the arrests, and I pitched and edited everything else we published about them between September of 2010 and May of 2011. One of my colleagues and I shared an award for news writing from the Missouri College Media Association for one of those stories.
Now I work at the Columbia Missourian, a newspaper that extensively covered his arrests, though I never handled any of that content. Anyone who saw my tweet could find out where I worked just by looking at my Twitter bio.
So what did I reveal about myself with this post? That I think he’s guilty of the crimes he was sentenced to jail time for? Yep. That I’m a feminist? Sure. That I lack integrity? I really don’t think so.
I think my Twitter account is a pretty fair representation of who I am in my professional and private life.
For me, commenting on the Washington story is a natural extension of this kind of sharing. I didn’t say anything while the cases were still open, but now that they’re closed and he is no longer a focal point of Columbia news, I don’t think I overstepped with my post. This episode got me thinking, though, about where I should draw the line between transparency and professionalism. There’s tremendous pressure on reporters my age to come in and save newsrooms with social media; to be clever, open and personable with our readers. But we’re still bound by very traditional ideas of what journalists should share.
If I can’t say something as simple as “‘just messed up’ doesn’t describe domestic abuse or sexual assault,” I don’t see the point in trying to have an authentic social media presence. Thoughts?