A male reporter writes on his Facebook page: Me to a (female) editor on being sick during the opening of political filing and the hearings on redistricting, which I’ve been following up to this week’s climax: “I feel like I’ve been taking this girl out on a bunch of dates and now someone else is going to bed with her.”
He immediately apologized for his comment, knowing it was inappropriate in a workplace.
I said, “This is how newsrooms talk. It’s OK.”
I was quickly slapped down by a mutual friend. Sorry, John Robinson, but this might have been okay in the past. It’s not anymore, even in a newsroom, where salty speech is the norm. Joe knows it, and that’s one reason why he feels lousy.
What followed was a rollicking conversation about the appropriateness or not of that kind of comment.
Newsrooms, which used to be filled mostly with white men, were known for off-color language, sexist jokes, cigarette burn holes on desks and chairs, more profanity than you might hear in jail, occasional fistfights and frequent attacks on chairs, desks and trash cans. That typewriter with the sticking keys? Back in the day, it might find itself tossed out of a second-floor window.
Now smoking is banned, the floors are carpeted, there are as many women as men, and everyone has to go through training to understand the laws involving harassment. I once had to cruise the newsroom and take down photos that staff members posted in their cubicles that might be considered inappropriate or contributing to a hostile environment. (I briefly removed a pinup photo of a male actor with his shirt off from one female reporter’s wall. The language that resulted may have contributed to a hostile workplace.)
I don’t miss those days, but I do think newsrooms are different sorts of places. Journalists are irreverent and don’t stand on convention. Editors demand that they speak truth to power and that they don’t back down when put off. So, how can we expect them to be PC in a newsroom?
I know this makes me sound like one of those nutcases that blames everything bad in society today on the PC culture. Nope, not me. I’m glad that people can’t smoke in the newsroom. I support the limitation of dropping F-bombs. Newsrooms and news coverage has been vastly improved by the gender and racial diversification of the staff. Lowering the sexual tension and chauvistic temperature is a must.
But sometimes people who make their living with colorful, descriptive words can’t help themselves. And the image the reporter evoked fits exactly what happened. Sorta.
For the record, the female editor the reporter addressed? Here’s what she said: Your comment didn’t even break into the Top 100 Inappropriate Things (You) Said To An Editor list. And yes, we have a list. For the record, I thought it was funny.
Update: Michael Triplett at NLGJA responds. I agree with everything he says.
Romenesko also asked people about how the newsroom has changed. Some responses on Facebook.