Wilder’s ouster, and the newswire’s lack of candor about its cause, has caused a rare uproar inside the storied news organization.
Monday’s open letter said the lack of communication about Wilder’s firing “gives us no confidence that any one of us couldn’t be next, sacrificed without explanation. It has left our colleagues — particularly emerging journalists — wondering how we treat our own, what culture we embrace and what values we truly espouse as a company.”
Management, in response, vowed to have new discussions about “AP’s approach to social media.”
Wilder was fired last week after just two weeks on the job. In a statement on Saturday, Wilder said she is “one victim to the asymmetrical enforcement of rules around objectivity and social media that has censored so many journalists — particularly Palestinian journalists and other journalists of color — before me.”
Before joining the AP, Wilder was an active member of pro-Palestinian groups at her college. She was a proponent of Palestinian human rights and a critic of the Israeli government. She is Jewish. And she is a believer in journalism. She joined the Phoenix bureau of the AP after ten months at The Arizona Republic. “I was proud to land a job at the AP,” she said.
So why was Wilder fired? And what does it say about modern newsrooms and social media policies?
The AP is being opaque
Like many institutions, the AP would typically rather not comment on “personnel matters” at all. But when Wilder went public, the newswire said that she was dismissed “for violations of AP’s social media policies during her time at AP.”
Monday’s open letter called this out. “We need to know that the AP would stand behind and provide resources to journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns and online harassment,” the letter said.
“Interest groups are celebrating their victory and turning their sights on more AP journalists,” it continued. “They have routinely made journalists’ identities subject to attack. Once we decide to play this game on the terms of those acting in bad faith, we can’t win.”
AP: We “cannot take sides in public forums”
An AP spokeswoman told me that “we have this policy so the comments of one person cannot jeopardize our journalists covering the story. Every AP journalist is responsible for safeguarding our ability to report with fairness and credibility, and cannot take sides in public forums.”
Wilder was working in Phoenix, with no connection to coverage of the Middle East. As Atkinson said on “Reliable Sources,” there’s “mass confusion” about the “rules” governing social media use by members of the media, and “no journalistic entity has a good handle on it.”
This issue also came up in Monday’s open letter. The employees asked for “clarity about the disciplinary process used for Wilder, including which social media posts warranted termination and why,” plus “a forum to discuss what AP deems best social media practices for its journalists.
“It’s important that the AP and its employees can articulate where the lines are drawn,” the open letter stated.
The employees also asked for “the formation of a diverse committee to update the AP’s social media policy to support evidence-based, nuanced social posting.”
Later in the day, senior managers circulated a memo and said they’re ready to talk about possible changes to the social media policy.
The memo didn’t say anything new about Wilder, except that “much of the coverage and commentary does not accurately portray a difficult decision that we did not make lightly.”