My long-time friend Al Fleming, a multiple Emmy-winner, won one of his statuettes with a commentary which began: “In the news business, it’s been said to never, ever, ever answer your critics.”
Al explained he was inclined to let the issue pass but that he was about to take on the United States Army. He did. In one of the most powerful perspective pieces in any city in America, Al took off the gloves as if he were in a rematch with Ali vs. Frazier.
I am about to take on a single television viewer. However, this one individual is a reflection of one of the sickest elements in social media since its invention. Trust me, plenty more are out there like him.
Emileigh Forrester is a young weekend anchor and reporter at WALB in Albany, Ga. I have a fondness for that station. WALB is located about halfway between the two hometowns in which I grew up in the fifties through the seventies. At one point, before all of the nutsy battles over compensation from cable companies, WALB was seen in almost every city in deep South Georgia.
WALB is one of those markets that for more than 60 years has been the lifeblood of local news for many rural areas of lower Georgia. People in cities such as Sylvester, Tifton, Hahira, Valdosta, Ashburn, Nashville, Enigma, Fitzgerald and Hazlehurst have looked to Channel 10, the long-time NBC affiliate, for news and information. No doubt, that has been exceptionally true during the past weekend with the threat of Hurricane Irma to WALB’s coverage area.
Emileigh is like hundreds of young men and women in television newsrooms across America. Except during a couple of weeks of vacation during the year, her weekends are spent in a place that is far quieter than it is during an average weekday. She has to fill two half-hours of news on Saturday and Sunday. Emileigh has what has historically been known as a “skeleton staff” to help find enough local, regional and national news to deliver those newscasts to viewers who expect it, even if the content is largely softer than the Monday-through-Friday output.
If she is like many weekend anchors in small markets, she is reporter, videographer, producer, and editor. Emileigh is in that professional period in which jobs like hers are part of the pay your dues years. One with a solid work ethic agrees to such a role in the hope one can vault someday to a better-paying and more prestigious role either in the same station or one in another city.
Since my purchase of two Roku smart TVs more than a year ago, the NewsON app—one of the greatest inventions for a former news director—has allowed me to reacquaint myself with WALB, as well as a number of other stations across the country. I watch the station’s newscasts a few times each month in order to reconnect with what is happening in the region of my roots. Jim Wallace, an old college classmate from the unofficially labeled Bill Martin School of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Georgia, is WALB’s senior news anchor.
Occasionally on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon after football season ends, I click NewsOn over to WALB to catch one of Emileigh’s weekend newscasts. I have always found her pleasant, engaging, personable and authoritative in her presentation. One afternoon, I sent her a thumbs up message on Twitter as I periodically do with a number of young reporters and anchors across the country. As a former professional in the field, I feel a calling to offer encouragement to the next generation of reporters and anchors. I did so several times Sunday afternoon with reporters from WINK in Fort Myers, Fla., who were exemplary during their coverage of Irma.
The weekend just past was a rare one for the WALB newsroom and staff members such as Emileigh. Hurricanes, or threats of them, rarely reach as far as Southwest Georgia. Remnants, tropical depressions, maybe even the leftover tropical storm may show up. This time, the path of a powerful storm had people who live in those many rural communities surrounding Albany on pins and needles and depending on the long-reliable news staff of WALB to provide accurate, frequent and consistent weather and safety information.
As I write this, I am watching WALB News 10‘s late Sunday evening newscast after the Cowboys-Giants NFL game on NBC. In the first 12 minutes, I counted crucial emergency information for 11 different counties in the WALB coverage area. That is exactly what viewers expect and deserve in a weather crisis. Emileigh, as usual, carried the ball solo until she handed off to weekend meteorologist Andrew Gorton.
So, you ask, why all of this about one young woman among many in newsrooms in hundreds of cities toiling with a limited number of colleagues in order to keep people informed on Saturday and Sunday evenings? A few times a week one of the jackal pack of dunderheads (I borrowed that term from Al Fleming’s award-winning commentary in 1979) demonstrates utter ignorance as well as abuse of the privilege of social media use. Just read what was posted on Twitter by someone calling himself @Tblake762:
Well, well, well, Mr. @TBlake762, your brilliance and articulation are overwhelming. If we had a Mount Rushmore for insolence and cruelty, you would be carved on it.
People like this have been out there well before social media was created. They used to use an item called a landline telephone. Just as on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, they would either often lie about their names or refuse to reveal their identity.
This guy, who claims to be a Marine, has exhibited enough mental skills to make Gomer Pyle appear to be a Rhodes Scholar. What he did only energized the troops. Look at some of the responses:
I am equally heartened by the WALB web producer. Most of the time, difficult as it is, colleagues will just turn the other cheek. In most instances, that is the right thing to do. However, in this situation, I appreciated the retaliation:
As for Emileigh, she took the high road. Trust me, even if you have been raised with the Biblical principle of turning the other cheek—as have I, the toughest thing to do when you are hit with a cruel slap in the face is to respond with salt and light. Here is how Emileigh handled it—-and her web producer chimed in with another appropriate salvo:
I have never forgotten what happened shortly after I hired a young woman named Natasha as a reporter in 1991. This was her first job out of college. She had a great education and interviewed well. I was glad to get her.
Admittedly, Natasha struggled in her first few weeks. She had difficulty with speed and with editing skills. I saw huge potential in her, so even though her early work was not up to snuff, I decided patience was the appropriate posture.
At the end of the third week, a call came after the 6:00 newscast from a viewer. He called himself Charlie, though I doubt seriously if that was his name. Twenty-six years later, I am paraphrasing this conversation but Charlie said something to the effect of: “How come you can’t do any better than that new girl you have on there?” In the next five minutes, Charlie proceeded to provide every generic reason why he did not like Natasha. Then came the payoff. Charlie had to throw in the firebomb that he didn’t understand why we had to have so many people who had the color of skin as Natasha.
I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts before I responded. Again, paraphrasing, I said: “That, sir, is something to which you and I could never agree. You have just demonstrated the fallacy and insolence of your entire argument. Since this is the direction you have taken it, this conversation is now over.”
I wonder what he thought over the next year when Natasha blossomed into an outstanding reporter with more and more confidence. She overcame the speed issues and the editing deficiencies. She broke some significant political stories, some of which had statewide impact. She went on to a larger market and stayed in touch with me for several years.
I equally ponder what the @TBlake762s of the world will think when Emileigh’s career blossoms even more than the way it already is at WALB. Then, again, he had his one evening in the Twitter moonlight. That is probably all he cared about at the time. Next time you look in the dictionary, see if he isn’t listed as one of the definitions of the word “cruel.”
What this guy does not realize—probably among many things—is that a large fraternity and sorority of journalists, both active and retired, will not sit back and allow a colleague be unfairly and unreasonably assailed. The troops are on the warpath and we have Emileigh’s back.
I retired from being an active news director 25 years ago and went into broadcast journalism education. Yet, for the last nine years I have been a quasi-news director because I supervise a daily cable newscast on local television produced, reported and anchored by my students. I will unequivocally say that I would have been proud to have had Emileigh Forrester as a student or on any of my news staffs when I was still in the daily TV news profession. Further, I will at any time be equally pleased to use Emileigh’s work as a role model for my graduates who want to follow her into the field.
Emileigh, hold your head high, just as high as the road you took with @TBlake762. What is gross? Anyone who would take to Twitter to invoke such a despicable post fits the description.
As for people like him, remember the famous words of my good friend and homespun humorist Don Hudlow, who said: “There are a lot of naysayers in this world…..and they’ve all been vaccinated with lemon juice.”