It’s been a rough month and a half for Matthew Keys. In March, Reuters’s now-former deputy social media editor was indicted by the US Justice Department, accused of sharing a past employer’s network information with hackers. Reuters suspended him (with pay) shortly thereafter, and Keys, 26, spent the last month tweeting news much like he did before the suspension, with his Reuters title still on his Twitter profile.
The Boston Marathon bombing proved to be Keys’s final undoing; he lashed out at Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa, accusing his boss of tweet plagiarism. Keys also took a lot of heat for erroneously tweeting that one of the bombing suspects was in custody and live-tweeting the Boston police scanner after the police department had asked the media to stop. Yesterday, Keys announced (on Twitter, of course) that his 14-month employment with Reuters had come to an end. He replied to my questions via email.
Were you surprised when you got the phone call on Monday morning? Were you surprised when you were suspended last month?
The suspension came as a surprise. The phone call this morning was unfortunate, but not unexpected.
What’s the last month been like for you?
Very tiring. After the indictment came down, my roommates kicked me out of the apartment. With nowhere else to go, I packed the trunk of my car with the stuff I wanted to take, had it shipped, booked a plane ticket, and moved back to California. I’ll be here for a little while.
What went wrong with your Boston coverage, if anything?
Nothing. Like the networks and wires, I had anonymous sources within law enforcement. Unlike the networks and the wires, my sources were solid. Not once did I have to retract anything my sources told me. Reuters is faulting me for not adhering to a request published by other news organizations. As far as I’m aware, there was no request by law enforcement on social media and no request by law enforcement by way of a press release or media statement asking for people on Twitter to not tweet emergency scanner traffic.
Reuters fired you because of your tweets about Boston, but you also gained about 10,000 followers during that time. What do you think that means?
I gained 10,000 followers in 24 hours covering the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, but to be fair, my follower count dropped by about 1,000 followers after Friday. People tune in to various Twitter feeds during breaking news situations. My follower count always goes up when big news breaks, though it’s rare it goes up that much. I assume the same happens for other news aggregators and social media journalists who cover similar stories. If you’re lucky, the new followers will stick around, but it’s not unreasonable to assume some tune in for the big news event and then tune out when it’s over.
You’ve been about as open about this whole thing as anyone I’ve ever seen, from the indictment until now. On one hand, the transparency is refreshing. On the other, every time you tweet or post or what have you, you run the risk of getting in more trouble. Do the rewards outweigh the risks? And do you think, if you had just stopped tweeting entirely when the suspension began, that you’d still be employed by Reuters?
A manager with Reuters told me on Friday the company would have been perfectly happy if I had stopped tweeting when the suspension was handed down. That would have been the more conservative approach, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. The company was looking for a reason to dispose of me.
When the indictment came down, the first thing I said publicly is that I was okay and that things would go back to normal the next day. Still, there were people who worried about me. I hope by tweeting the news and writing posts—-committing acts of journalism even through tough times—-it alleviates some of the worry others have.
You’re young, with only a few news producer jobs under your belt, and suddenly you became one of the social media faces of a huge, international media brand. Did Reuters expect too much from you, and was it too quick to issue that “final warning” (which you said was also the first warning) when it felt that you came up short?