March 22, 2018
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Vermont newspaper editor fired after controversial tweets about gender

Matt Rourke | AP
Matt Rourke | AP
This Wednesday, April 26, 2017, photo shows the Twitter app on a mobile phone. A Vermont newspaper editor was fired for opinions expressed on the platform.
By Travis M. Andrews, The Washington Post

Vermont newspaper editor Denis Finley was fired from the Burlington Free Press on Monday night by Gannett, the paper’s parent company, for violating the company’s social media guidelines, the news outlet reported.

Finley had often spoken his mind on Twitter since becoming the newspaper’s editor in 2016, firing off a mixture of harsh opinions and jokes that many people often found offensive. But his series of tweets this month criticizing a proposal for Vermont to offer a third gender option on driver’s licenses went too far, the company said.

“We encourage our journalists to engage in a meaningful dialogue on social media, but it’s important that the conversation adhere to our overarching values of fairness, balance and objectivity,” Randy Lovely, a Gannett executive, told the Burlington Free Press after Finley’s ousting.

Finley did not offer a public comment about his dismissal overnight Monday. He was not immediately available for comment.

The controversial tweets that led to his dismissal came after he engaged in heated arguments with people who supported Vermont’s proposal on driver’s licenses.

A user named “Shay Totten” tweeted a Vermont Public Radio story about the proposal, adding the note, “This is awesome!”

Finley quickly engaged the user, tweeting: “Awesome! That makes us one step closer to the apocalypse.”

Finley’s tweet quickly drew outcry from readers asking him to explain his position. One user asked: “Why is it apocalyptic?”

“The world isn’t coming to an end yet. I think it’s just falling apart, piece by piece,” Finley tweeted.

“My issue is simply why is this awesome?” Finley tweeted at a user named Tim Sinnott.

“It’s awesome because recognition is awesome. Your turn,” Sinnott replied.

“All recognition? Any recognition, Tim? What if someone said it’s awesome they are going to recognize pedophiliacs on licenses? I’m not being snarky, I’m just asking. Not all recognition is awesome,” Finley responded.

One user said that Finley’s tweet showed “jaw-dropping ignorance.” Another user said he was canceling his subscription if Finley wasn’t replaced.

Although people on the social media platform are used to this sort of content, Finley was a newspaper editor in an organization with strict guidelines for how staff members should conduct themselves online. His tweet soon garnered national attention.

“The Vermont online universe is now filled with mostly outrage, and claims of canceling subscriptions,” James Warren wrote in a commentary for the Poynter Institute, an educational resource for journalists.

In the Burlington Free Press’s report on the firing, president Jim Folger said Finley’s tweets didn’t represent the newspaper: “Those opinions are his personal views and are not those of the staff or leadership” of the news outlet.

Burlington Planning Editor Emilie Stigliani will serve as the interim editor as the company searches for a replacement, the newspaper reported.

Finley came to Burlington after spending 10 years as editor of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. During his time in Vermont, he often bluntly shared his opinions with his Twitter followers, which, as of Monday night, numbered around 900.

For example, when the New York Times tweeted, “Former President Barack Obama is to be the first guest on David Letterman’s new monthly Netflix talk show,” Finley quickly responded. “Another reason not to subscribe to Netflix,” he wrote.

And when Politico tweeted: “2017 is almost over. Here are the 18 politicians, activists and operatives to watch in the new year,” along with a story, Finley stated, “In other words, ignore them. Politicians, activists and operatives are what got us into this mess. The only people who care are whores, like Politico.”

Finally, when the Associated Press tweeted, “Fans of Frank Lloyd Wright are seeking a buyer to prevent the demolition of a Montana office building he designed in 1958,” Finley inexplicably responded: “I don’t care who designed them, destroy all office buildings.”


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