How 140 Characters Lead to Death of a CNN Reporter’s Career

Whether Octavia Nasr was fired or simply came to a mutual decision to leave CNN, her untimely exit from her post as Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs raises important questions about journalists and their engagement with new media.

As someone who has been following Nasr for sometime on Twitter I must say the news comes not only as a shock but also as a disappointment. However, as someone who has studied the media for the past 6 years, I am left to wonder how Ms. Nasr couldn’t have foreseen some sort of backlash from her now infamous Twitter message?

As Nasr herself explains in an apology posted to a CNN Blog, the nuance of her point will never be conveyed with a mere 140 characters.

Yes, there is an inherent laziness displayed in the backlash against Nasr’s ill-advised comments. Surely we must live in a society where complex, challenging ideas can be presented. In this society we thought existed, someone can admire certain attributes of a person while looking down upon other aspects of someone’s character and or beliefs.

Unfortunately, in the hyper world of Twitter, nuance and complexity are not easily conveyed. Therefore, all Nasr’s followers saw were “Hezbollah” “sad” and “respect” buried in between another 137 or so characters. There was little room for anyone to research Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah nor Octavia Nasr long enough for them to realize that the Lebanese Christian journalist was referring only to specific element’s of Fadlallah’s character and the roots of the Hezbollah movement.

Unfortunate though it may be, Nasr’s departure? firing? from CNN raises the question of a journalist’s role in an increasingly partisan media world where insta-news services like Twitter occupy the realm once dominated solely by old media giants like CNN.

How can a journalist utilize these technological advances without compromising their objectionability? At what point, if at all, can the journalist be separated from the person? Of course, the fact that Nasr’s Twitter account was CNN branded may have been what really did her in. This leads to the next logical question: what might have happened had Nasr’s profile not been CNN branded and whether a journalist’s profession can ever truly be separated from their own personal lives?

If a journalist is expected to give up outward displays of activism and opinion in their social life for fear of being called biased, can the same be said about their digital persona – especially since a digital persona is at the same time fluid and forever encapsulated in Internet caches? On the one hand, a person can dictate their digital persona and how it is perceived through careful curating of content created by and associated with it. In theory, one could create several online personas. However, no matter the number of online personas, people are still subject to the lasting characterizations of Internet caches.

So where if any, is the place of a journalist in the world of new media? Especially one who comes from an institution that went from being the vanguard of new intrepid media to symbolizing the old guard traditional journalism in less than 20 years?