Brian Pedersen worked for the Arizona Daily Star for more than a decade—before being fired by the morning newspaper in September 2010.
Now he awaits word from the National Labor Relations Board as to whether he has a case regarding his dismissal, which reportedly involves a series of posts he made on his Twitter account.
One of the issues in question, according to Pedersen: What is appropriate tweeting behavior?
Pedersen, the newspaper's crime and public-safety reporter, made a number of tweets related to a string of homicides in Tucson. Reporters at the Star now use Twitter in abundance, for the purpose of public expression and to drive potential readers to azstarnet.com, the newspaper's website.
However, Pedersen's tweets were more colorful than one might expect, given the subject matter.
"I went about it in a way they didn't think was appropriate, because I was being humorous and sarcastic instead of just saying, 'There was another homicide; check azstarnet for more information.' I would be a little more colorful," Pedersen said. "Have you ever seen Anchorman, where at the end of every newscast, he says, 'You stay classy, San Diego'? I tweeted, 'You stay homicidal, Tucson.' Or, 'No overnight homicide? WTF. You're slacking, Tucson.' Admittedly, smartass things. I know full well what I was writing was smartass-y, but I never heard a word from them."
That is, according to Pedersen, until he posted a tweet making light of a flub at local TV station KOLD Channel 13. Pedersen said a complaint from an employee at KOLD led to a Star review of Pedersen's Twitter account—and then steps to oust him over the posts made relating to the homicides.
"That was (when they) decided everything I had been writing was inappropriate; that I was going about it the wrong way; I was being insensitive; and it was making the Star look bad," Pedersen said. "I was suspended without pay for three days, and as soon as I came back from that, they fired me. They had a goon there who escorted me out of the building, who said that if I came back on the premises, I would be arrested."
Pedersen contends that the Star showed no effort to work with him or instruct him through an acceptable process. He said the Star—which refused to talk to the Tucson Weekly about any portion of Pedersen's case—does not possess a code of conduct for social-media posts in writing.
"Suddenly, this is something (they) don't like, and instead of working together in a way that works for all of us, (they said), 'Nah, you keep doing this, and we'll just get rid of you,'" Pedersen said. "I felt I had no recourse until I saw this Facebook case."
That case centered on a Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee over a Facebook post criticizing her boss. The employee won the case on the grounds of protected speech.
Meanwhile, Pedersen believes he may have been singled out due to his criticism of the newspaper—in the social-media realm—involving Star sports coverage in January 2010.
"In the termination letter, they referred to this as a repeat offense, that I had been repeatedly told not to do this, and I had been told back in January not to use any public forums such as social media to criticize the paper or to make the paper look bad. They were considering it a repeat offense, because back in January, I got talked to because I criticized the Star sports department on Twitter, and was told I couldn't do that.
"I had an issue with the way some of the headlines were written. I voiced my opinion and was told in no uncertain terms, 'You're not allowed to do that,' so I didn't. I stopped making any comments about the Star or co-workers or anything like that. I went so far as to tell my co-workers I was giving up criticizing the Star for Lent, trying to make light of the situation, but also knowing I wasn't supposed to do that. But they determined ... the things I was writing about in the homicide beat fell into that same category."
Pedersen also contends the Star fudged a timeline to suggest he was a repeat offender, and that they therefore had the right to terminate his employment.
"The tweet that prompted the Star to check my Twitter account was on Sept. 21, a Tuesday, when I mocked KOLD for using the wrong spelling of a word," Pedersen said in a follow-up e-mail to the Weekly. "The Star found out about it on Sept. 22, a Wednesday, when someone from KOLD brought it to their attention, and (that) was the same day that I was reamed for that and other tweets they'd then seen after reviewing my account.
"The Star claims, though, that I re-tweeted KOLD's comment on Sept. 24, a Friday, two days AFTER being talked to about the inappropriateness of my comments. This would make it look like I was admonished and just flat-out ignored their warnings."
But Pedersen said no such record exists, and the only reposting that occurred was on his MySpace account on Sept. 21, before he was reprimanded.
Star management would not say if it monitored Pedersen's account beforehand—which would seem appropriate if he was indeed chastised for criticizing the organization publicly earlier in the year—nor would it say whether it monitors the social-media postings of other employees. Star officials would not even say whether a terms-of-use memorandum exists.
"I can look back and say ... I wish they would have said something: 'Hey, we want you to draw traffic to the website, but we don't want you to do it in a way that might offend anybody,'" Pedersen said. "I was telling my editor and telling people how I was writing, although not exactly specifying what I was saying, and it got no reaction whatsoever of, 'Oh, don't do that.' When they pulled me in, in September, had they said, 'Let's find a better way of doing this,' it (would have been) a little bit more of a work-together kind of thing."
A determination on Pedersen's case could be made shortly.