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A Red-Headed Reporter's "Confessions" Shouldn't Be a Big Deal

You can easily make the argument that young journalists need to learn that online verbal diarrhea has consequences in a business where you're expected to maintain at least a modicum of objectivity and personal distance from the audience. But that's simply not realistic these days.
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I guess no one can ever say that I don't understand what ex-WAAY-TV reporter Shea Allen is going through, at least in a general sense. For the time being Allen is out of a job because of something she posted on her personal blog that her bosses felt was a little too personal and could possibly render her embarrassingly radioactive professionally. Whether or not her candor and humor about the realities of working in the news business actually would hurt her credibility was of course never tested. Predictably, it was easier just to knee-jerk and get rid of her -- despite what appears to be a record of pretty damn stellar service to her station and the community -- rather than ignore a late-night social media brain purge that almost nobody would've seen in the first place had she not been fired over the fucking thing.

In case you're unaware of Shea Allen's story, up until a few days ago she was an investigative reporter in Huntsville, Alabama, probably doing her fair share of personally satisfying work but I guarantee suffering through all the various indignities that go along with being a reporter in Huntsville, Alabama. That ended, both the good and bad, as soon as she published a post to her personal blog called "Confessions of a Red-Headed Reporter," which both laid out and ever-so-gently riffed on the real life of a small-market reporter. This was the result:

1. I’ve gone bra-less during a live broadcast and no one was the wiser.
2. My best sources are the ones who secretly have a crush on me.
3. I am better live when I have no script and no idea what I’m talking about.
4. I’ve mastered the ability to contort my body into a position that makes me appear much skinner [sic] in front of the camera than I actually am.
5. I hate the right side of my face.
6. I’m frightened of old people and I refuse to do stories involving them or the places they reside.
7. Happy, fluffy, rainbow stories about good things make me depressed.
8. I’ve taken naps in the news car.
9. If you ramble and I deem you unnecessary for my story, I’ll stop recording but let you think otherwise.
10. I’ve stolen mail and then put it back. (maybe)

Like anybody who blogs or pours their thoughts out online via one format or another, she posted the above, thought the better of it and pulled it down, then thought the better of that and reposted it with the following preface:

This post was taken down because I was momentarily misguided about who I am and what I stand for. To clarify, I make no apologies for the following re-post. It’s funny, satirical and will likely offend some of the more conservative folks. But it isn’t fake and its a genuine look into my slightly twisted psyche. Here’s the thing, I’ve vowed to always fight for the right of free expression. It’s allowed, no matter what the profession. I pride myself in having earned the respect of many because I make no apologies for the truth and hold nothing back. I don’t fight for things because they serve me, I fight for them because they are right. Sources trust me because I am an unadulterated version of the truth. I won’t ever bend just because its popular to do so and I’m not bending now.

To be really honest, there's very little that Allen says here that should be considered the least bit controversial, especially to those who've done any time at all in the TV news trenches. Yes, female reporters sometimes go braless and you don't know about it because, why would you? Of course the easiest people to get information from are the ones who are attracted to you; this has been accepted reality in the field of intelligence gathering since somebody first wanted secrets somebody else had. No, reporters don't like feel-good stories because they're generally boring as hell and they often consider it beneath them, especially at the local level where feel-good stories often involve cats stuck in drains or charity car washes. Yes, reporters sometimes catch quick naps in their cars; you would too if you worked obscene hours, got sent all over town day after day by managers who seemed to be rolling the dice every hour on the hour to determine what story they wanted you to do, and could sometimes spend a good portion of your shift just waiting around. The rest of it reads like what it is: somebody with a decent sense-of-humor and enough of a cynical edge to probably be a pretty effective reporter just kidding around.

It will surprise no one at all to learn that WAAY's management didn't see it that way. They fired Shea Allen without cause for the post as soon as they became aware of it. I'd say that she's now really over a barrel, given that she's apparently the single mother of a little boy, but we all know how these things work: The publicity from her firing, which included a hit on the Today show this morning, will ensure that she's scooped up by another station by this time next week. And ten bucks says that station will be in a much bigger market, making the non-compete clause in her contract meaningless.

You can easily make the argument that young journalists need to learn that online verbal diarrhea has consequences in a business where you're expected to maintain at least a modicum of objectivity and personal distance from the audience. But that's simply not realistic. When I was publicly fired by CNN for blogging way back in 2008 -- and in new media years, yes, that was eons ago -- I spent months afterward railing to my suddenly massive audience and readership that the network had made a huge mistake. I didn't mean by canning me -- while I never revealed where I worked, I still wrote under my own name and regularly offered some pretty blistering views on the TV news business and it was absolutely the network's prerogative to fire me for it -- I mean by not understanding where not just journalism but our culture in general was heading.

I was 38 when I was let go. That made me a dinosaur by social media standards, someone who had at least lived a good portion of his life during a time when there was no social media. The generation behind me has lived almost its entire life online; to expect any 20-something professional to conform to a set of arbitrary social media restrictions, often pulled out of a manager's ass post hoc, isn't simply ridiculous, it's also short-sighted and counterproductive because it's guaranteed to severely impede the ability to hire and keep talent: If you begin discounting everyone who's honest online once in a while, the pool you're drawing people from is going to turn into a puddle. Also, I'd rather have one person on my staff with the fire and dynamism to be a smart-ass online once in a while than ten who don't feel the need to ever speak their minds or have the social media savvy to do it well and meaningfully. A good journalist is somebody with a brain who can't shut up. Local news needs more people like that.

So, yeah, good for you, Shea Allen. Enjoy that 20-point market-jump in your near future.