We got this story from LatinoCommunicators as well as the great Richard Prince of Journal-isms, out of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. (And oh yeah, Soledad O'Brien.) According to Prince's post, meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired by ABC Shreveport affiliate KTBS because Lee "responded to a racial remark posted by a viewer on the station's Facebook page."
Here is what Prince wrote in the original post about this story:
KTBS-TV's action against Rhonda Lee followed a previous response by Lee to a viewer who questioned whether she should wear her short Afro, suggesting she put on a wig or grow more hair.
Lee messaged Journal-isms on Saturday, "I had a meeting with my ND [news director] and GM [general manager] Friday trying to get my job back. They told me the policy I violated isn't written down, but was mentioned in a newsroom meeting about a month-and-a-half prior. A meeting I didn't attend. So when I asked what rule did I break there isn't anything to point to.
"The week I was brought in to discuss [the] last post, I was told by my ND that there were a few unclear things in the policy and that we were going to have a meeting with George Sirven, the GM about it. I was instead fired the next week — no discussion had. Sirven claims that even if a policy isn't on paper we as employees are responsible for abiding by them. There isn't anything in our employee manual talking about social media dos and don'ts. I was accountable for a rule that essentially isn't in existence."
Sirven told Journal-isms by email, "We do not comment on personnel issues out of respect for the employee and the station."
You can read the Facebook exchange here. KTBS gave the following image to Prince, showing another example where Lee posted a response to a reader's comments comparing KTBS to the BET channel.
In response to the story (updated today), the LatinoCommunicators post made some points that we hope leads to a real dialogue about what is acceptable in a social media world. Was Lee's comment a fireable offense because she defended herself? And was the station that afraid? We find it a bit hard to believe, but Prince's story does refer to an email that KTBS sent to employees, parts of which said the following:
Over the past few months, we've had a few Facebook Fans complain about commercials, promos, and even our programming and talent. I would like to offer some guidance, although this really is more of a starting point for a 'Social Media Best Practices' policy for our company:
When we see complaints from viewers, it's best not to respond at all. Responding to these complaints is a very sensitive situation and oftentimes our off-the-cuff first response will be the wrong response. Even if our immediate reaction response to the complaint were exactly what it should be, it still leaves us open to what has a huge opportunity to become an argument. Either way, it's a no-win situation for us, and for the viewer also.
If you choose to respond to these complaints, there is only one proper response: Provide them with (redacted) contact information, and tell them that he would be glad to speak with them about their concerns. Once again, this is the only proper response.
It seems like a slippery slope, since as with anything, so much can be open to interpretation, although we do think that KTBS made its first mistake when it didn't address the reader comments in the first place. And by the way, the email suggested that a social media policy was still at a "starting point," leading to believe that such a policy was still being developed and was not made official. So is the email enough cover for the station?
A few months ago, Wisconsin new anchor Jennifer Livingston went on the air to defend a reader criticism about her weight and appearance. Livingston's response became Internet legend, and in our opinion, we see no problem when people defend themselves. KTBS, if it had any clue about social media, should have done something when the original Facebook post against Lee was made. It should have engaged the profiles on Facebook and defended Lee, instead of Lee having to defend herself and get fired because of it.