NABJ: KTBS ‘missed a golden opportunity’ for conversation about diversity

The National Association of Black Journalists says it’s saddened by KTBS-TV’s decision to fire meteorologist Rhonda S. Lee. In a statement, NABJ encouraged media companies to “allow greater latitude” when employees defend themselves against critics online.

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.

Lee was fired Wednesday after she responded to one complaint about her short Afro, and another about there being too many “people of color” on one of KTBS’s segments.

The incident has raised questions about newsrooms’ social media policies and whether journalists should respond to complaints online. It has also renewed attention to a deeper issue: how — and whether — to turn insensitive, ignorant comments into a thoughtful, informative discussion about race.

Some news sites turn off comments on stories about race. With social media, though, it’s harder to “turn off” comments. Some journalists have found that when covering race-related issues, it’s beneficial to moderate social media comments and respond to them.

Former Huffington Post writer Trymaine Lee told Poynter last year that he often responded to readers’ critical tweets when covering the Trayvon Martin shooting:

This is a national conversation, and just because it’s controversial doesn’t mean you should hide from it. The more controversial it is, the more important it is to have a conversation about what the story’s addressing.

Policies that restrict journalists from responding to critical comments suggest that it’s OK to ignore ignorance. The best social media policies don’t list restrictions; they offer guidelines and best practices that teach us how to respond to diatribe — and create a healthy dialogue.

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  • Mary Ann Jacob

    I could careless how short her hair is or how she wears it. Is she any good at the weather? If she is then she should move to Jacksonville where NONE of the weather people ever get it right

  • Michael Flagg

    The title misses the point COMPLETELY! In making this a “diversity” (dog whistle anyone?!) issue it ignores that this professional woman was dismissed because she violated some non-existent policy by an employer that did not support it’s own staff. THAT is the real issue!

  • Jessica Piniero

    How truly heartbreaking that the people whom are expected to tell the truth, and whom so many people watch and listen to, should be so blatantly biased and racist. I bet if she were a caucasian woman with short hair, it would not be an issue. And the fact that she was non confrontational in her responce should have been applauded! She actually touched the person who had posted in a positive way, and arent we supposed to endeaver to be a positive influence on those we touch? I hope she gets a new job that will appreciate her beauty, and her talent!

  • Beverly Cater

    What a crummy station! Firing an employee for that?

  • Wanda Lyn Young

    Shame on you KTBS! To think that in 2012 we can still be talking about someone’s hair style.

  • Chuck Miller

    Hiding your head in a sack does not alter the situation.

  • Darrin Graham

    I am stunned that a television station could be so blatantly racist. How in the world can, in 2012, a public company in the business of image alienate such a vast number of viewers. I am speechless at the stupidity and evil nature of the managers involved. They should be immediately terminated and sent to a course on being a human. Not an ancient relic of slave trade. For a country I have visited many times, and love, I am disgusted.

  • Genie McDonald

    Is it really necessary to play the race card here? And the problem is obviously not with her professional response to a most unprofessional question. Supposedly, the station fired another employee of a different ethnicity for non-compliance with the same policy. And while I’ve never seen this particular station, most stations take advantage of using personal aspects of their on-air representatives’ personal lives to their advantage. This station by their lack of response to a social situation, and a response to an employee policy situation appears to be unpopular and spineless when our nation desires us to care about people.

    I wouldn’t wish that job back on her unless the house is cleaned of the poor policy and decision-makers who led to her dismissal. She’s too good for them. And I’d gladly watch her on my stations any time. I grew up watching Monica [Kaufman] Pearson, who–by the way–did a fun story on all of her hair changes over the years.

  • Ed Wolvin

    Nothing new here Just another Company that has Racist views. They should be ashamed of themselves for even letting this go as far as it has. Meteorologist Rhonda Lee should be rehired no questions asked with back pay !

  • roadgeek

    I’ve noticed that most, if not all, conversations held today about diversity really tend to be monologues, and that those who hold a contrary opinion are instantly cast into the outer darkness of thoughtcrime. So it’s simpler to just not engage in “conversations” about diversity or other social issues.