As news broke of the passing of retired General Norman Schwarzkopf, local newscaster Reginald Roundtree, like so many others, took to Facebook to express his sympathies and share in the collective grief felt by the death of Stormin’ Norman. This kind of accessibility, interactivity and vulnerability are part of what makes Roundtree one of the most admired celebri-journalists in Tampa Bay.
Unfortunately, the kind of accessibility and online activity can also come back to bite a journalist, as it did last night with Roundtree.
Minutes after the news of Schwarzkopf’s death broke, Roundtree posted on his Facebook page that “Our 41st President has passed…George H.W. Bush…Rest in Peace.”
As close as President Bush is to death’s doorstep, news of his passing would not be surprising. However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of Bush’s demise were exaggerated. Roundtree — lead anchor for a local television station — got it wrong. Very wrong.
Of course, Roundtree is not the first person to post incorrect information on Facebook or Twitter. And he later updated his status to correct his mistake and apologize, but still, Roundtree has more than 5,000 friends on Facebook. He’s a respected newscaster in a major television market. He’s, daresay, a voice of authority.
Imagine if Roundtree had said what he said about President Bush on-air. I don’t know if he’d have a job right now. Now I don’t want to see Roundtree lose his job, but he should be held accountable for this Facebook post, even if its just on his personal Facebook page. Journalists and newscasters must recognize that there is less and less separation between their on-air presence and their online profile.
Fortunately for Roundtree, he corrected his mistake quickly enough that there no harm was done by his comments. But he and other journalists should use this episode as a lesson for how to best conduct themselves on social networks.