Burlington Free Press editor loses job over tweets

The executive editor of The Burlington Free Press, Denis Finley, was fired Monday after tweeting comments that drew heavy criticism from Twitter uses, the chair of the Democratic Party and reporters from several news outlets.

The newspaper announced the firing Monday evening on its website. Finley came to the Burlington Free Press in 2016 from the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

The paper's parent company, Gannett, said Finley had violated policies governing social media.

He became caught up in controversy on Friday over his tweets about a state proposal to offer a third gender identity on driver's licenses that was reported by Vermont Public Radio. He said the recognition of transgender people "makes us one step closer to the apocalypse."

A back and forth ensued with Shay Totten, a former columnist for Seven Days, who accused Finley of being "transphobic, bad at Twitter, or both." Seven Days reported that Terje Anderson, chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, responded on Twitter that it was "another reason not to subscribe to the Burlington Free Press."

Finley got caught up in a flame war with critics. "What if someone said it's awesome they are going to recognize pedophiliacs on licenses?" he wrote. "I'm not being snarky, I'm just asking. Not all recognition is awesome."

It wasn't the first time Finley had made controversial remarks on Twitter. According to Jasper Craven, a freelance reporter who writes for VTDigger, he tweeted comments that made light of sexual misconduct, minimized allegations of sexual misconduct by Roy Moore and Charlie Rose, retweeted Ann Coulter, a right-wing personality, and criticized Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Craven, in an interview with Seven Days, said Finley's partisan tweets appeared to violate the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

Finley admitted in a story posted on Seven Days that his use of the word "apocalypse" was "too strong."

James Warren of the Poynter Institute on Monday morning wrote that too often news outlets get confused "as they seek to be more refined P.T. Barnums of a digital age." He pointed to Finley's tweets as a case in point.

"There's a difference between being responsibly provocative and perhaps tone deaf to your audience — especially in the digital age," Warren wrote.

Finley's curious tweets, Warren wrote, "underscored the tempting perils of journalists, even newsroom bosses, who feel compelled to opine on, well, just about anything."

John Gregg, a Valley News editor, took it one step further and suggested (in a tweet) that Finley could lose his job over the comments.

Just three days later, that's exactly what happened.

Randy Lovely, vice president for community news for the USA Today Network, announced Finley's firing in a story on the Free Press website on Monday.

"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," Lovely said.

The company emphasized the tweets were personal views and not representative of "staff or leadership" at the paper. Officials said a search for Finley's replacement would begin immediately.


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