Lessons from a bossy big sister
It's the social media story of the moment. The hand-to-forehead, isn't-she-stupid, jokes-on-them anecdote of the day.
A local news reporter, like me, fired for sharing a little too much of her behind the scenes perspective on her personal blog, like this one. (Read the details here, if you're catching up.)
I just read a few dozen of the comments on her actual blog post--ugh. I'm not going there. I almost just deleted this draft and my idea to write it altogether based on the way people fire off extreme and hurtful comments that steer the conversation straight to the town of Useless (an actual city in Missouri, by the way). But I also think it's worth a constructive discussion. Because we all have thoughts like Shea Allen's.
I saw it the other day when I was paying the McDonald's cashier for my coke and bag of fries (no judging, it was delicious). The girls in the window were rolling their eyes at the customer who'd just asked them to repeat their McNugget order for the 8th time. I see and hear it often with my teacher friends, my doctor friends, and every other field friends. And I see it in myself. Heck, I work out of a bureau and spend a great majority of of the day alone. Sometimes I feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway, talking to my dang tripod like he--I mean it-- is Wilson. Trust me, I know a thing or two about the tendency toward snarky that Shea refers to.
And working in television news is an especially weird and maddening animal. Reporters slip in and out of a lot of different worlds and meet all the characters who come with them. Tuesday I spent half the day at a Casey's General Store parking lot and the afternoon in a cardiac cath lab. You can imagine the range of people. And for the record, real people say crazier, funnier things than any Hollywood comedy writer could come up with. But that's just it...all those people are a privilege. The young, the old, the rich, the poor and everyone in between. They are our privilege to know as reporters and journalists. I think that's what Shea lost sight of it.
We all talk and laugh and tease among friends, no matter the career field. Sometimes it's just a means of survival. But the thing about being a public figure, and more importantly, a 'watchdog of society' as I believe she called herself, is that we have a responsibility to respect the people whose stories we share. And that means putting that duty above all the truly crazy nuances of tv news. She failed to do that.
The people we aim to protect have to take priority over the way we attempt to look decent on camera, and the frustrating workflow, and the stories we don't particularly love to cover. I by no means intend to sound smug here. Because like I've said-- I've been there, to some degree. I stand up straight to look better on tv, sometimes I wish I had time to take naps on the bureau couch (kidding, of course), and unlike Shea, old people are my favorite, but there are some stories I really don't like to cover. Example- the ones that require me to ask random people on the street for their opinions...I'm shy and it's not in my nature to interrupt people so I find those days extra challenging.
But whenever I'm tempted to tweet a funny line or did-that-just-happen experience, I think about a story from my childhood. I was too young to remember but I've heard it a million times from my mom and dad. I was with my family at a restaurant when my very cute toddler of a brother tapped a woman on the shoulder in the booth behind us. As matter a fact as he could be, Matty asked the kind, smiling woman, "Why are you so fat?"
Classic. Being the older and wiser sister I thought I was, I quickly corrected him, sternly saying, "you can think it, but you can't say it."
I'm not sure where my 5 or 6 year-old self got the line, but it's served me very well ever since, and especially in my short television career. And although Shea has every first amendment right in the world to shout the things she said from the rooftops, that doesn't make it the right thing to do.
So I will extend those words of wisdom again, and say, Shea: You can think it but you can't say it.
Because we all think it sometimes, but as long as we're in this business- with its low pay and long winded interviewees and unnecessary live shots- respect must take precedence over satire...or whatever it is you were going for.
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