Reuters staff in trouble after Japan-related jokes in company chatroom

Reuters editor Andrew Marshall was reprimanded after making a Japan/nuke-related joke in an internal company chatroom, while stressed out and sleep deprived, working the night shift.

His comment about radiation levels in Tokyo following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown - "Is your hair starting to fall out?" - was directed to a bald colleague in Japan.

It was in the middle of the night on the Asia desk in Singapore where he was alone on the overnight shift that had been started after the Japan crisis hit.

There were about 25 to 30 people in the Reuters messaging chat room created specifically for journalists involved in the Japan disaster story. All were Reuters journalists, mostly in other regions.

"I was feeling slightly miserable alone on the Asiadesk in the middle of the night watching images of death and suffering on multiple TV screens ... I thought my message might raise a few smiles, and I know from extensive experience working in war zones and disaster areas how important this is for team morale," he said.

More here at A related post, and a Guardian item here says that Reuters bureau chief David Fox was fired over a "crude remark" he made in the online exchange (the remark was not reprinted).


  1. What’s so constitutionally amoral about (poor) gallows humor? Don’t they know it’s a coping mechanism?

  2. What’s so constitutionally amoral about (poor) gallows humor?

    My ancestors were hung at the gallows, you insensitive clod!

      1. How offensive!! My great grandmother had her heart cut out with a socket-wrench! The indignity!

  3. Sounds like he was making a joke at the bald guy’s expense, not Japan’s. Give me a break here . . . I can’t even count the Blinky (3 eyed fish from The Simpsons) jokes I’ve heard about japanese sushi.

  4. People need to joke to keep their spirits up. It doesn’t mean they are callous, cruel, unfeeling, unconcerned or uncompassionate.

    The people who would outlaw this sort of thing are the enemies (moderate hyperbole) of humanity.

    People can be heroes, engaged in saving people’s lives, doing worthwhile things (yeah .. I know, these guys were just journalists) and crack the most appalling jokes about the most terrible trajedies. Doesn’t mean squat. They have to do it, to lift themselves – too much sincerity can grind you down. People have to lighten themselves and their friends/colleagues up.

    Personally, I’d fire the people who fired/reprimaned the people who were fired/reprimanded.

    No one wants a world where we all have to walk around with a stick up our asses, afraid to say the wrong thing.

  5. Jokes are srs bsns. You can’t be in the professional world without being srs bsns about everything ever.

    *troll face*

    It’s blatant overreacting.

  6. Reuters insiders in Asia said Marshall’s story is part of a wider saga, details of which are likely to be told soon.

    Doesn’t surprise me. Some friends of mine used to work there in the late 80s and early 90s, when it was (apparently) a fun place with a sense of humour. Then another friend of mine started working there in the late 90s (Reuters bought his company who were providing the Tablet applications for Reuters 3000) and after a year, he’d had enough and went back home to Australia.

    1. I generally assume that HR departments and, in the UK, anybody with “Health and Safety” responsibilities are just unable to get actual jobs. They must have to actively seek things to do during the day, hence shit like this.

      1. In my experience good HR is about caring for the employees, not grinding down on them. I have known bad HR managers, but then you get bad everything managers.

        In my years if I got fired it would have been from my boss, HR would have just done the paperwork.

  7. This is gallows humor.
    There is a difference between that and gloating.
    Whoever made a fuss about it is an EQ idiot.
    As Eric T said, it’s a coping mechanism. If you deny that to people in stressful situation then you are making waay more damage than good.
    Imo the person who should really be fired is the guy who made a fuss about it. His ignorance of basic human psychology is actively damaging. I suspect a sociopathological personality. We are not robots ffs.
    I have friends up there in Sendai area and I haven’t heard from two of them. And I love them. And I can crack a joke about it. That’s what being human means.

  8. Ever hang with a morgue attendant or someone who does human autopsies? You have not seen sick senses of humor. It is a coping mechanisms. If I had to deal with the daily news, categorizing disaster after disaster on a daily basis, I would develop that sick sense of humor too. It’s not like they’re publishing this stuff, this is meant for in house.

    In fact, now that I’m self employed, I will make it policy for my first, and all future employees to have a sick sense of humor, with little regard for political correctness. As long as the customers don’t see it. Do you know why? Because it makes the work place tolerable, and dare I say, fun?

    Please, Reuters, keep up the good work, and keep up employee freedom to crack a joke and have fun. It’s what keeps your people happy, and it shows in their work.

    1. “As long as the customers don’t see it. Do you know why? Because it makes the work place tolerable, and dare I say, fun?”

      The point is that some people find it offensive and distasteful, and in turn can make it an unpleasant work environment for them. Not everyone has the same sense of humour.

      Although I hate unnecessary policy, I don’t think there’s any harm in going to some effort to make sure employees keep it within reasonable boundaries and at least make an attempt to not upset the people they have to spend 50% of their time with.

      If this offended other people in the chat room then it was by definition inappropriate, if not however, then it’s over reacting. The policy is there to make sure that people don’t have to call out every act, as that does little to retract the offence taken.

      Amongst certain company I’d probably make some pretty crude remarks about women; but if I were to do it at work I could end up making someone miserable, and frankly, that’s not fair on them and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t say anything either.

      1. You can’t know what is considered offensive though. There are jokes I’ll tell to 20 different people and then one outlier will be shocked when I tell it to them. I had a very religious teacher once who got offended that I made a joke related to (not at the expense of) saying grace and he was upset by it, then 15 minutes later he made a joke about Guantanamo. I was expecting this guy said something way more fucked up when I read that he was reprimanded. I’m actually sort of disappointed it wasn’t funnier.

  9. I have to wonder if they’ve considered what kind of work environment they’ll create by only hiring or keeping people who don’t crack the occasional sick joke in the face of tragedy. How else are they coping? Or more creepy still, what if they don’t need to cope? Imagine being a new hire at Reuters, playing the game of, “Which of my coworkers are sociopaths, and which are merely alcoholics?”

  10. Take it from someone in the know, this is NOT a case of humour deficit. When asked if the radioactivity had caused his hair to fall out, the (bald) guy that was fired replied he was not, then made a very crude comment about Japanese women.

    The exchange took place in a work chat-room seen by other colleagues, including women. Being ‘under duress’ is hardly an excuse. The offending remark came from someone who has worked in war zones and he made the remark in downtown Tokyo — which though earthquake-shaken is hardly downtown Baghdad. And what about our other colleagues in Tokyo who continue to work with quiet dignity and without making sexually crude comments?

  11. apparently Reuters then hired a guy from Fukushima to give more sensitive and appropriate coverage – the HR department said he came with glowing references

  12. Another victim of political correctness. I completely see how the journalist values dark humor for late night, grim reporting.

    The only thing MORE asinine was AFLAC getting rid of Godfrey, when his career is made on that type of humor.

    Getting butt hurt over something you don’t find funny or in good taste shouldn’t necessarily lead to a firing.

    1. I’ve never understood that defense of Gottfried, that AFLAC knew what they were getting. AFLAC didn’t hire him because he works blue, they hired him for his voice. But more importantly, Japan is a huuuuuge market for AFLAC. Gottfried got canned not so much for what he said, but who he said it about: Their customers.

  13. Seriously? I mean, SERIOUSLY? Sitting behind a desk in a different country whining about being tired makes it ok? It’s not about making laws. It’s about having an unprofessional jackhole in your employ – particularly when your business IS accuracy and credibility. Do I want to get my news from this guy?

    Despite how these jokers like to portray themselves, journalism is NOT a hard-drinking religious calling. It’s a j.o.b. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, administrate. And those who can’t do either one write about it.

  14. The cool irony: if Reuters reported a public figure making that same remark under the same circumstances, it’d get that person fired.

  15. One thing I’ve noticed over the past twenty years or so, is that now everyone is a comedian. The cult of standup comedy has so saturated our culture, that every cubicle monkey and button pusher thinks he’s Richard Pryor.

    Richard Pryor was funny. So was George Carlin. So was Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce. I paid money to see them, and got my money’s worth. But it seems every wageslave nowadays goes out of his way to be amusing, and make lame humor out of tragic situations.

    If all you office funnymen have balls, then step up onstage next open mic if you think you’re a comedian, give it a try, don’t inflict it on your co-workers, a captive audience.

    1. “The cult of standup comedy has so saturated our culture, that every cubicle monkey and button pusher thinks he’s Richard Pryor.”

      I agree that most people think they’re funnier than they are, but standup comedy hasn’t changed social humor THAT much, there were always terrible yuk yuk jokes.

      Hell, there were plenty of poop/fart jokes in greek plays.

  16. Z-grade loser Gilbert Gottfried deserves more anger than this guy (who was merely making a joke at the bald guy’s expense).

    My response to Gottfried’s shit jokes:
    Hey Gottfried – Japan called, they have found some of your relatives’ possessions in the tsunami debris.. of the Miyagi Auschwitz museum!

    Tasteless joke is tasteless.

    1. You can’t hate Gilbert Gottfried if you’ve seen The Aristocrats. He told a 9/11 joke at a roast only three weeks after the event. When the audience yelled, “Too soon.”, he launched into the aristocrats. It’s a work of art.

      1. I’ve seen it and have to agree that the comedy of uncomfortable tension and purposeful offensiveness can be absolute gold, but I think the difference between his jokes on Japan and those on 9/11 is his nationality.

        Gottfried was an extended victim of 9/11 (as are all Americans) which IMO makes use of coping humor a little more acceptable – especially with 3 weeks in between disaster and wise-crack, and doubly so when backed up with the aristocrats joke which (to any switched-on audience member) is a cue that he is trying to offend.

        In the case of his tweets, they were made very shortly after the disaster and it seems the guy was simply trying to gain publicity because otherwise it must suck being him – solely known for having a grating, unbearable voice (and a face-only-a-mother-could-love to match).

      2. An audience filled with other comedians at that. A shining moment out of many in that sick (both meanings) epic.

        1. Bob Saget’s version is filthier, but Gilbert Gottfried’s delivery blows everyone else away. He’s gleefully taking vengeance on his audience for complaining about the 9/11 joke.

      3. That was a fantastic film.

        re: “Gottfried was an extended victim of 9/11… ”

        That is why black jokes may only be made by black people.
        Jewish jokes may only be made by other Jews.
        Gay jokes may only be made by other gays.
        Women jokes may only be made by other women.

  17. The trouble is, if you’re talking to a large group of people – and not one to one – you know you could upset someone. So that’s why it’s best to play safe.

    Would he have made the joke in his article for example? If not, then he would probably consider it to be a dangerous statement.

    As to working night shift etc… BS, no excuse. We all work at different times. Working after 10pm doesn’t mean you can suddenly say or do what you want.

  18. It sounds like the larger problem was not this baldness/radiation joke, it was the lewd comments about Japanese women made in a business forum. That’s not considered gallows humor, it’s considered sexual harassment in the workplace ( IMO that’s quite a different thing altogether.

    It seems like the baldness/radiation joke just served to entangle the first guy in the whole mess, so he got a stern warning.

    This is all just based on those 2 little articles that don’t really say much about the actual facts of the situation though, so maybe I’m way off.

  19. Not Anonymous. Dan white.

    Just a correction…. The men who were engaging in the normal work chit-chat were not ‘cubicle monkeys’ they were seasoned field journalists with experience at the sharp end in war zones and disasters… Anyone who has worked as a journalist, aid worker or diplomat in tough field situations will understand that humour is often a necessary mechanism to get through the day an shrug of the panic and danger….. It has nothing to do with f*****G Richard Pryor.

    That Reuters have taken it this far (and in such public) is a an absolute disgrace to Reuters as an organisation. The ‘disgraced’ field staff are the people who Reuters trusts to put their lives on the line in times of crisis… i.e people who work in the field and learn to function in the field.

  20. Verbal harassment on grounds of race, sex, religion etc is one thing; this is journalistic banter in a time of crisis, which is something else entirely. The real problem here is that it was *assumed* that this was happening on a private channel. In reality, it was anything but. People often say things which are edgier in private than they would in public. It’s a human characteristic, to want to confide and chat and let off steam. Consider Gordon Brown, during the run up to last year’s elections, calling Gillian Duffy ‘bigoted’ when back in the safety of his limo, forgetting he was still wearing a live Sky News microphone; or John Major complaining that his cabinet colleagues were “bastards” under similar circumstances when being interviewed by the BBC; or, more recently, Obama lamenting the obstructive Republican stance on the budget. And there are a million and one other incidents, no doubt.

  21. I happen to have been related to one of the principles in this and have inside knowledge of the situation.

    The individual who was fired is one of the few reporters left at Reuters who has the experience, fortitude and talent to go into extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous situations at the drop of a hat and get the story right. He has worked in many hotspots for the last 20 years and his writing is always precise, accurate and humane.

    I am pretty sure that I am correct in saying that when he realised the nature of the error he will have moved heaven and earth to correct it, the new regime at Reuters gave him no support and gave hime the axe.

    Given the length of his tenure and the nature of his service, it is safe to assume that Reuters’ new masters at Thompson will have regarded this error as a godsend, enabling them to rid themselves of a respected representative of the old Reuters and saving themselves what will surely have been a substantial pension in the future.


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