Archive for the ‘Diversity’ Category

Rhonda Lee

Rhonda Lee

There has been an interesting development in the firing of meteorologist, Rhonda Lee.  Station management  is apparently breaking its own so-called social media policy to speak out about the firing of the African-American meteorologist at KTBS-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana.  The station fired Lee after she defended herself on Facebook over racist comments posted by viewers.  The comments were ignored by news management.

In the past 24 hours, the station has been bombarded on Facebook and Twitter with people angry over the firing of Lee.  No telling how many phone calls and emails they got from angry viewers and people around the country.

Critics on Facebook and Twitter did not hold back:

MBarry  tweeted…

This is absurd! Shame on you #KTBS-TV. Meteorologist Fired for Responding to ‘Racist’ Facebook Post

PMallard tweeted…

Rhonda Lee, If their social media policy isn’t in writing, it isn’t a legal policy !! #KTBS Fail !!

J Scott wrote on Facebook:

I was very offended when I read about this situation! I would like to think that KTBS would want to be viewed as a “community” station, that serves ALL the people of the Shreveport-Bossier community. 

KTBS-TV VIOLATES ITS OWN UNWRITTEN SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY 

Just after 11pm on Tuesday, December 11, KTBS-TV released a statement on Facebook about Lee and another employee terminated for allegedly violating their unwritten social media policy.  You may recall, Lee told blogger, Richard Prince of Journal-ism that she was told by management that it was a policy that was not written down.

Now it seems that the station has violated its own “unwritten”  social media policy by responding on Facebook about the controversy.  Here’s the statement it released on Facebook:

Typically this station does not comment on personnel matters, but due to the publicity and interest about this issue, the station has included the following statement. 

On November 28, 2012, KTBS dismissed two employees for repeated violation of the station’s written procedure. We can confirm that Rhonda Lee was one of the employees. Another employee was a white male reporter who was an eight year veteran of the station. The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page. Included is an email that was sent to all news department employees informing them of this procedure. This procedure is based on advice from national experts and commonly used by national broadcast and cable networks and local television stations across the country. 

Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow.
Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.

KTBS even shared a screen shot of an email sent out in August by the stations marketing manager.  This is an email not an official social media policy. Now the station is trying to claim this email was the policy.  Please….

KTBS-TV post on Facebook

KTBS-TV post on Facebook

MISSING THE SOCIAL MEDIA POINT

There is nothing in the email that addresses dealing with comments with racial overtones.  There is nothing in the email that addresses how long you let a racist comment sit on a website for everyone to see.  Lee told CNN that the comment sat on the website for 6 Days. There is nothing in the email that addresses what the station will do to defend a person of color when they are attacked on Facebook.

Social media policies cannot be just “blanket” statements.  A good policy should cover ever issue as a “stand alone” especially when it pertains to racist comments.  Being called a terrible reporter is different from someone calling you out as “the black lady” and not giving you the proper respect of using your name.  That hurts!

WHO GETS FIRED NEXT

So now that KTBS has issued its response on Facebook; it has broken its own policy that General Manager, George Sirven says Lee violated. Remember the email read:

“When we see complaints from viewers, it’s best not to respond at all.”

So who gets fired next? Someone wrote the statement and approved it.  But here’s the reality, different rules apply for people of color in TV broadcasting.  Yes, even in 2012.

More information: 

  • News Director: Randy Bain, email: rbain@ktbs.com, phone: 318-861-5880
  • General Manager,  George Sirven, phone: 318-861-5821
  • KTBS-TV Facebook 

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award-winning reporter based in Dallas, TX.  She has 31 years  of experience in journalism.  She’s also a news consultant and public speaker.

Rhonda Lee

The firing of Rhonda Lee is the topic journalists of color are talking about across the country. The African-American meteorologist at KTBS-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana, was fired for responding on Facebook to a viewer for his racist remark.

Lee told blogger Richard Prince of Journal-ism that she was fired for defending a comment about her short afro. Apparently a viewer suggested on Facebook that “the black lady” could wear a wig or grow it out. He also wondered if she was sick with cancer.  She did what many of us would do–she responded.  She told him on Facebook that she was healthy and was happy with her “ethnic hair.”

This was the second time she had responded to a viewer who had used racial overtones in a Facebook post. The other was about the station choosing too many kids of color for a station project. The viewer said maybe the segment should be on the BET Channel. Lee once again responded to the viewer in a respectful tone telling him that the choosing of the kids was random.

TAKING THE ISSUE INTO HER OWN HANDS

What are you suppose to do when you get racist comments from viewers in emails and Facebook messages? What are you suppose to do when news management ignores the comments and lets them sit on the website for all to see?

I don’t know Rhonda Lee, but I have been in her place when it comes to viewers and their racist comments. I’ve been called derogatory names in emails. Yes even “spic.” I was told in emails not to pronounce my last name like I do in Spanish. Viewers would say “You’re in America, speak English!!!” This after they just heard me give a television report in English.

I would often tell my managers at my former station in Dallas about the comments, even show them the emails. But as white managers they were not trained to deal with such remarks. So they would make “mental notes” and often say “keep us posted.”

In the case of Rhonda Lee she took matters into her own hands. She realized the news managers weren’t jumping in to respond or to defend her on Facebook. The viewer had the upper hand. What her news director, Randy Bain (rbain@ktbs.com) did about the racist comments is not known, but he also had a responsibility to defend her.

FIRED OVER AN UNWRITTEN POLICY

I think the General Manager at KTBS-TV copped out by firing Lee. His managers didn’t know how to defend Lee on Facebook, maybe didn’t even care that someone criticized her hairstyle—so they took the easy way out. He fired her over an “unwritten policy.” A policy that apparently exists in the minds of the news managers at the station.  Was Lee suppose to read their minds?

George Sirven, GM

The station’s General Manager, George Sirven told Journal-ism “We do not comment on personnel issues out of respect for the employee and the station.”

Now is that a company line or what?

Sirven should have shown Lee “respect” by defending her when that racist comment was made on Facebook.  Sirven should have given Lee “respect” by having a social media policy in WRITING.

DIVERSITY NEEDED IN MANAGEMENT

Firing an employee, especially an on-air talent is not the answer.  Managers like Sirven need  “Diversity Sensitivity 101.”  You don’t punish the person who was attacked on Facebook–you figure out how to deal with the nasty viewer.

Sirven and his news director could have used Lee’s case as a learning tool.  How to deal with racists comments on Facebook. Maybe even put together a written policy on how to deal with such issues on social media and emails.

I hear there are no managers of color at KTBS.  For starters, it sure does help to have diversity in management. I’m sure a person of color in management would have acted quickly on the Facebook comment, because it was just plain wrong.

Sirven needs to put himself in Lee’s shoes.  But unfortunately he’s just another “white manager” who sided with the white viewer instead of defending his own employee. His own news family member.  Was it fear or ignorance? Well if he thought the issue was going away—it is not.

NOTE TO MR. SIRVEN:  This firing is going to be the topic of panels in journalism and social media conferences for a long time.  I strongly suggest that you and Mr. Bain figure out a way to defend your employees of color, because you still have some.  Man up boys!

More information: 

  • News Director: Randy Bain, email: rbain@ktbs.com, phone: 318-861-5880
  • General Manager,  George Sirven, phone: 318-861-5821
  • KTBS-TV Facebook

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award-winning reporter based in Dallas, TX.  She has 31 years  of experience in journalism.  She’s also a news consultant and public speaker.