WASHINGTON (December 13, 2012) –NABJ is saddened by the recent termination of meteorologist Rhonda S. Lee by Shreveport, La. television station KTBS. According to numerous published reports, Lee was fired for responding to what she described as an offensive station Facebook page posting about her short, natural hairstyle. Her employer says Lee was fired for repeatedly violating a company policy that discouraged employees from responding to “complaints from viewers” on the station’s Facebook page. The official statement can be found on the same KTBS Facebook page. We encourage media companies to protect employees on official social media platforms that are used to engage news consumers. We urge managers to be more sensitive to social media comments and attacks on their employees. Many companies employ social media editors or utilize electronic systems to quickly discard offensive comments, but not all organizations do. Therefore, companies should allow greater latitude when it comes to employees defending themselves in these forums. When Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston was ridiculed as overweight by a viewer, managers quickly came to her defense and allowed her to address the issue in an editorial-style response. This reaction facilitated a greater discussion in which Livingston emerged as a role model and a tremendous asset to her employer. NABJ believes Lee’s managers missed a golden opportunity to initiate a community dialogue about respect, identity and diversity, particularly as it relates to redefining standards of beauty, what is aesthetically acceptable in television news and the value of on-air journalists beyond appearance. What happened to Lee is disturbing. Although the nation continues to become more diverse, biases based on race, ethnicity, gender and culture persist in newsrooms. We want to remind every journalist, especially NABJ members, to review your company’s social media policy and employee handbook for guidelines about using these evolving, yet essential, news delivery and audience engagement tools. We also remind our members to continue to employ discretion when responding to complaints to minimize opportunities for targeted, adverse action.
An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C. NABJ is the largest organization of journalists of color in the nation and provides educational, career development and support to black journalists worldwide.