The Star Tribune’s Tom Lee scored a mammoth scoop Tuesday with news that Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn’s resignation came amid a company investigation into alleged personal misconduct, which Lee today reported was an alleged “inappropriate relationship with a female employee.”
Wednesday night, Lee published a scoop he seems to have regretted.
Via the social networking site Twitter, Lee sent two messages to an account belonging to Brian Dunn. I’ve redacted them for reasons I’ll explain in a sec:
“@briandunn Brian, I’m a reporter for the Star Tribune. I’m writing a story that says BBY board is investigating you for XX XXXXXXX XXXXX…”
“@briandunn BBY employee XXXX XXXX. Is this true? Contact me at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-202-2307.”
Twitter allows people to send each other private, direct messages, or DMs, but Lee’s were public. That put the woman’s name out in the wild, where competitors and curious citizens – including the one who tipped me off – could read what the newspaper was not confident enough to print in its Thursday front-page follow-up.
Lee’s tweets were a mistake because there needs to be some standard of proof (and subsequently, judgment) before someone’s name is put out in public.
More than an hour later, the messages were deleted.
What happened? I can’t be completely sure because as of 10 a.m., Lee had not responded to my DM and business editor Todd Stone and managing editor Rene Sanchez haven’t answered my email, nor were they available by phone.
In his story today, Lee writes, “Dunn … has not responded to phone calls and other efforts to reach him for comment.”
It’s possible Lee thought he was sending Dunn a direct message. However, only people who follow each other can send DMs; a check of the 1,422 people Dunn follows does not include Lee, though it’s possible the ex-CEO “unfollowed” the reporter between Wednesday night and my Thursday morning check. Also, Lee sent two messages, meaning he had to make the same mistake twice.
Lee is a net-savvy guy, having interrupted his Strib tenure to be an aggressive blogger for online-only Med City News.
Then again, net-savvy guys can make mistakes. I know.
Shocked that Lee had tweeted out the name and anxious to point out the breach, I retweeted his second tweet. I immediately regretted it, since I was compounding his error and “undid” the retweet within seconds. So did one other Twitterer who saw what I saw.
Though some people certainly saw what the three of us posted, it appears, for the moment, that Lee and I successfully unrung the bell. A Twitter search for the woman’s name at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday turns up no references, nor did a Google News search.
The escapade is a reminder that social networking – while a wonderful tool – still needs to serve, not undermine, ethical reporting. It’s also a reminder to compulsives to think before they shoot.