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Media/PR professionals weigh in on the firing of TV reporter Shea Allen

If Twitter has shown us anything, it’s how easy it is to get caught posting inappropriately-deemed content online. Take Chicago Sun-Times White Sox beat reporter Joe Cowley, who made sexist jokes on Twitter in April 2012 and was put on a “final notice.” But Twitter and Facebook aren’t the only means journalists can take to unwittingly damage promising careers. Last month, Shea Allen, a reporter with Alabama’s WAAY-TV was fired when she listed 10 personal confessions that related to her job as a reporter, including sleeping on the job and her dislike for elderly people.

In response, Allen said in interviews after the incident that she felt as if her First Amendment rights had been trampled on. Her firing received so much attention that even international news sources like The Guardian have covered the event. While a Huffington Post editorial was noticeably sympathetic to Allen’s plight, other news sources like Gawker.com reported that she already had offenses against her at the news station, such as cursing on the air and an arrest in 2012.

There is some debate that journalists have too much pressure on them to be unbiased and that they should be allowed to share their personality and beliefs within moderation. But employers also have the right to deem what they consider acceptable in terms of what their employees share, especially if it damages their credibility. Although there certainly were reader comments and journalists that felt Allen’s dismissal may have been a bit harsh, inVocus found that when asked if her firing was fair, responding media professionals unanimously answered in the affirmative:

Alexandrea Merrell , director of public relations at Orndee Omnimedia

“To admit publicly, especially in writing, that you do not do your job properly is never smart. By her own admission, she doesn’t like old people or their homes, pretends to record interviewees that she deems
boring, and takes mail (a federal offense). What does she expect? She damaged her own credibility and that of her employer, they really had no choice.

Many people today seem to mistake ‘Freedom of Expression’ with consequence-less expression. The two are clearly not the same. Shea Allen had the freedom to express these thoughts, but they are not without consequences and she has to be willing to accept those consequences. Shea Allen’s stated position that WAAY tramped her freedom of speech shows clearly that she doesn’t understand the
difference.

The job of a journalist is supposed to be that of an unbiased recorder of events.  Unfortunately, it can be very difficult today for the general public to tell the difference between a journalist and an opinionista. At minimum, a journalist should be able to tell the difference.”

Anna Keeve, program manager at Stalwart Communications

“Shea Allen absolutely deserved to get fired. Just because it was on her personal blog, does not exempt her, or protect her, from a company taking action to protect their brand. Airing information that is offensive and rude as it relates to people you work with, should be punishable. Also, a person in the public eye is always under tighter scrutiny, and should think twice about airing opinions/info like this as ‘the face’ of the company.

If this were any type of corporation, with shareholders and customers, her actions would have jeopardized clients and investors. Any company would have done the same thing, and the news media should not operate any differently, and infact, should be more scrutinizing.”

Bonnie Russell, president at Personal Public Relations

“Naturally, Ms. Shea Allen should have been fired. After she posted a video explaining what she was doing was waiting to tell a story about waiting to tell a story, Ms. Allen demonstrated she didn’t know the first thing about journalism. Reporters look for stories. They don’t sit in their cars making video selfies chronicling their boredom. Also, Ms. Allen is fearful of older people. Has no one informed her getting older is the goal?

So while Shea Allen’s utter lack of professionalism is the highlight, her work ethic reveals she’s in media – where the standards are considerably lower; not journalism.”

Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Hospital/Baltimore public relations blogger for Examiner.com

“Yes, it was definitely fair. Anyone admitting in a public forum that they sleep on the job and commit a crime like stealing people’s mail, yup, that person is ‘eligible’ for firing.”

Jill Jacinto, managing editor/media manager for WORKS by Nicole

“I think her firing was 100 percent permissible. When you are a public figure, everything you put out on social media does represent your brand and by virtue your employer. She wasn’t stating her favorite food or vacation spot. She was saying things like she didn’t like the elderly and wouldn’t do a story with them. What kind of professional reporter would even think that, much less send that out to social media. She also complains about her salary and her employer on her video blog. This whole story is essentially a ‘Don’t list’ for people who want to work in the media. I’m glad that it is getting the kind of traction it is because I’ve seen too many professionally damaging items on social media. We all need to learn that you shouldn’t post something you wouldn’t want your boss or your grandma to see.”

Susan M. Tellem, senior partner at Tellem Grody PR Inc.

“After doing crisis management for 30 years, I am not surprised at anything people do anymore. With the rise of social media, people have lost the typical sense of propriety that goes with a job. If she had written about things that were not related to her position on television, she probably would have gotten away with it. But I think she violated a code of conduct, if not a code of ethics, because she talked about things she did on the job: no bra, sleeping in the news car, etc.

It’s possible that she did not receive a company policy manual or if she did, it did not spell out rules relating to social media. If there were no rules provided, she may have a legal case.

On the flip side, people have to realize that there is etiquette relating to your job and social media. Better to ask first than to risk losing your job.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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