Mar 2, 2012

Schembri now punks your employer if you tweet criticism

Age film critic Jim Schembri has repeatedly contacted the employers of his Twitter critics -- in some cases issuing them with veiled legal threats -- in an apparent attempt to shut down dissent on the social networking site.

Andrew Crook — Former <em>Crikey</em> Senior Journalist

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

Age film critic Jim Schembri has repeatedly contacted the employers of Twitter critics -- in some cases issuing them with veiled legal threats -- in an apparent attempt to shut down dissent on the social networking site. Schembri, who tweets from the account @jimschembri, has been historically reticent to engage in Twitter discussion, but emails and eyewitness accounts show he has taken a keen interest behind the scenes in what is being said. On February 22, journalist Josh Taylor criticised Schembri -- linking to a Pure Poison post -- over a review Schembri had penned arguing ABC comedy Outland was "badly in need of a straight man" to balance out its surfeit of gay characters. Taylor includes a disclaimer on his account -- common among the Twitterverse -- stating that "the views expressed here are mine and not that of my employer". Schembri hit back on Twitter, but also emailed Taylor's editors:
Josh Taylor does himself + no credit by embracing the sub-idiotic misreporting of others. He is obliged as a journalist to check his facts. He also should understand as a journalist that any public statement he makes reflect on his employer. Yours Jim Schembri The Age
Taylor responded, CCing his bosses:
From: Josh Taylor Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2012 14:35:02 +1100 Subject: Re: Josh Taylor To: Jim Schembri CC: Editors Hi Jim, My Twitter stream is my own opinion, not ZDNet Australia's. For the record, I read your original piece and came to the same conclusion. Just as you're within your right to hold that opinion, as am I. Thanks, Josh
Schembri then replied with an expansive treatise detailing his views on Twitter and Crikey in a email marked "private and confidential". Taylor responded:
From: Josh Taylor Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2012 16:00:45 +1100 Subject: Re: Josh Taylor To: Jim Schembri The views expressed on Twitter were not part of ZDNet. As Twitter is the platform, not ZDNet Australia, it is totally divorced. What I tweet is my own personal view. I have nothing more to say on the matter. Regards, Josh
Schembri, back on the record, responded, telling Taylor to "speak with your legal people":
From: Jim Schembri Date: Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 4:17 PM Subject: RE: Josh Taylor To: Josh Taylor The platform is irrelevant. All that matters is that you are part of ZDNet and have publically identified yourself as such. Speak with your legal people. Please take care. Best to you Jim Schembri The Age
A similar sequence of events has unfolded in other contexts. Last year, Schembri also called Matt's (@michalowski) employer after he sledged the buff in the wake of the notorious "How I punk'd the Twitterverse" controversy. "One night at home, at approximately 11pm, I was scanning Twitter, and saw many mentions of the new Age iPad app," Michalowski told Crikey. "This was shortly after the 'How I punk'd the twitterverse' incident, which was obviously ridiculous, and as an Age reader I found it somewhat insulting that even got published. I then flippantly tweeted 'I would try The Age iPad app, but they still employ that f-cktard @jimschembri'. Not exactly eloquent or necessary, but hey." Michalowski's account is personal. "I never mention my employer or link to my employer," he said. "I don't follow my employer's Twitter accounts." The blowback was swift: "The next morning, at around 11.30am, while I was at work, I received a phone call from my employer's office administrator. She said something along the lines 'Hi Matt. I've just had Jim Schembri from The Age call me. He said you said something about him on Twitter, and would like to lodge a formal complaint. Can you just sort it out? Here's his number'." Chris Mayer's employers at Vapormedia also encountered Schembri's wrath following criticism dished out on Twitter. In response to Mayer, Schembri wrote to the firm to draw its attention to his Twitter account.
From: Jim Schembri Date: 16 June 2011 2:46:56 PM AEST To: Vapormedia Subject: Your Vapormedia Enquiry Reply-To: [email protected] time: Thu, 16 Jun 2011 14:46:56 +1000 enquiry: To XXXX, Managing Director /YYYY, Technical Director - Vapormedia Dear Mr XXXX and Ms YYYY, I am working on an idea for a story about social media policy in the workplace and am hoping you can help. Do you have somebody named Chris Mayer in your company? If so, is this his Twitter feed?!/chrismayer Thanking you. Yours Jim Schembri
Mayer told Crikey that one of his bosses replied to Schembri saying he did work there, and that "Schembri replied asking how they about felt my personal Twitter feed reflected on their company". "They had had enough by then, and left it there, not wanting to waste any more time," he said. After the issue was reignited last month, Schembri repeated the allegation, tweeting at Mayer to explain that: "What you say and do in public reflects on your employer, Vapormedia. The same rules of accountability apply to everybody. Cheers." Schembri also appears to have contacted the website Arts and Letters Daily following criticism received from another (since closed) account @artsjourno, who linked to the site in his Twitter description:

  Schembri is no stranger to online controversy. Last year he became embroiled in a scandal after online records obtained by Crikey from The Age's internal "Cyber" system suggested he had invented an elaborate ruse to cover-up a film review in which he gave away the ending of Scream 4. Schembri penned a column for The Age's Insight section claiming to have hatched the plan in advance in order to "punk the Twitterverse" -- by filing a review containing the spoiler for the website and another spoiler-free version for the paper's hard copy. In fact, the copy Schembri filed for the hard copy contained the spoiler -- the error was only picked up by a Brisbane-based Pagemasters sub-editor. EG editor Jo Roberts told Crikey Schembri had confessed to her that he had "filed the story errantly" and committed a "genuine error". Schembri also maintains a subsidiary Twitter account under the handle @altjim. Tweets from that account are often deleted quickly after Schembri issues them. He has recently began to engage in discussion on his main account following an extended period of passive plugs for his Age reviews. Neither Schembri, Age editor Paul Ramadge or Fairfax general counsel Gail Hambly responded to Crikey before deadline.

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8 thoughts on “Schembri now punks your employer if you tweet criticism

  1. Steven Haby

    As a critic Mr Schembri surely must expect robust debate and commentary from the public on his published reviews. If a person is responding to a comment, published or otherwise (i.e. spoken) in work time then depending on how that comment is made surely needs to be considered. e.g.
    – a response using a work device (mobile, telephone) in work time
    – ditto not in work time
    – a response using their own device in work time
    – ditto not in work time, i.e. at lunch or to/from work on the train

    Yes Mr Schembri is making a valid point I suppose if a response is made using company email or a device like a mobile.

    But it is a grey area if a person is making a comment using their own Twitter account… particularly if they are not using work devices to make it.

    Methinks Mr Schembri is clutching at strawmen.


  2. Jeremy Sear

    “Yes Mr Schembri is making a valid point I suppose if a response is made using company email or a device like a mobile.”

    Only if he’s been appointed Official Watchdog Of Everyone Else’s Workplace.

    Which he hasn’t.

  3. Fran Barlow

    Hmm … It seems that at best, Jim Schembri is careless with the syntax of his missives:

    [He also should understand as a journalist that any public statement he makes reflect on his employer.]

    The placement of “also” is eccentric and there is a clear failure of subject-verb agreement at “reflect”, since “any public statement” is singular.

    Mind you, Josh Taylor isn’t much better:

    [For the record, I read your original piece and came to the same conclusion. Just as you’re within your right to hold that opinion, as am I.]

    That second “sentence” is hideous. It’s far from clear which opinion is being held and compared and “as am I” adds nothing. Far simpler would have been:

    You’re entitled to an opinion, and so am I.

  4. chazzai

    All this reflects very badly on The Age. Maybe someone should let them know.

  5. Woody

    I’ve stopped getting The Age on Thursday because of critics like Schembri. As a critic, he’s not up to much. Too self absorbed, like many critics. And Jim, please contact my employer, they agree with me.

    At least he’s not as bad as a certain film critic in Adelaide who doesn’t actually see the movies he’s reviewing, and has lifted reviews from Sydney’s “Time Out”…..

  6. mikeb

    The more I read on twitter the less i like it. Do yourselves a favour and don’t use it.

  7. Cummings David

    God knows why anyone would read him, just read Sight&Sound.

  8. Ginger Princess

    I find it abhorrent that a journalist (and in this case, I do feel like I’m using that term loosely) would feel so insecure about themselves, their writing and their reviews, that they’d have to personally attack people who disagree with their views, or publicly criticise their work. And to personally attack someone via contacting their employer and make veiled threats…WOW – that’s just so inappropriate and so sad I barely know where to start!!! Talk about bullying your public into liking you – which only would do the opposite anyway. I cannot believe his self esteem is so low as to need to GET BACK at strangers who criticise him! And besides that, how unprofessional for him and The Age! I say, if you put your views out in the public domain (and ironically you’re criticising people’s work and then get shitty when someone criticises YOU – can dish out, but can’t take it, eh Jim??), be prepared to accept a bit of flak now and again from people who think what you’re saying is ridiculous….

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