Have you ever been bullied? Chances are the answer to that is YES. Especially if you’re a woman in the TV news business. Most of us, no matter what you do for a living, have experienced bullying, right? These days, trolls just seem more courageous than ever before, hiding behind their computer screens and anonymity. We’ve all been there. No matter who you are, no matter how thick your skin is, it can still hurt. Those of us in the public eye know this all too well, but we also know it comes with the territory and we can ignore the hate.
I get it, I put myself out there on TV every day. Not everyone is going to like me or like what I say or even what I wear. Most television journalists can separate the trolls from constructive criticism. But you know what? It still gets to us all. And we all have a message, email, Tweet or voicemail that still stings when we think about it.
I got one of those messages the other day. It came from a grandmother on the day I announced my promotion. My first instinct was to respond with how I really felt (aka – no filter). Pro-tip: Don’t do this. It never ends well.
Instead, I reached out to a network of fellow female journalists and they responded with encouragement, honesty and constructive criticism. They also shared their stories of how this has happened to them. Some of these women are young journalists, just starting out their careers. Others have been doing this for dozens of years. The point is, female journalists are constantly being attacked for our appearance, our weight, our makeup or our wardrobe choice. In some of the lowest cases, pregnant women are attacked for their growing bellies. Unfortunately, most of the messages, at least in my experience, come from women.
Part of this blog is to mentor young journalists and encourage women. I hope this post will do just that – to show you that that loser sitting behind the computer who sent you that ridiculous Facebook message is just that: a loser. I also hope this will show you that you’re not alone, and maybe you will learn from how these incredible women responded to the hate and took the high road.
I’ll start with a blurb from one of my dear friends who is a meteorologist in Washington, DC. Allyson Rae is a BOSS babe. She truly set a standard in this industry. And you know what? She’s got a hater. Here’s her experience:
“Eye roll, laugh, smile, wince, call police: all things I have done after reading a viewer email. They run the gamut of the harsh truth to conspiracy theorist to hopeless online dater.
I would say most viewers have a point; however, they just aren’t very nice! For example, “Is that a dress or sausage casing? You look disgusting.” Ok ok, I get your point. Perhaps my dress was too tight. Noted: I will not wear dress again until I lose 5 pounds, but the rudeness you can check at the send button. I do think that many younger people in this business are quick to throw away most viewer emails because they are in fact rude and poorly written. However, I find there is a takeaway from most viewer emails (this does not include emails that ask me on anonymous dates or inappropriate pictures) no matter how nice, rude, eloquent or uneducated someone can be.
My most memorable email is actually one that wasn’t that mean. In fact, it was so long and well written I couldn’t believe it. This one woman wrote me probably at least 3 pages about the difference between “further” and “farther.” There were paragraphs, examples, links to references and even suggested books to read. In fact, she recommended I watch the TV show Frazier because “they have perfect grammar.”
I thought, as many people do, further and farther were interchangeable. Boy was I wrong, and she let me know. Even her follow up emails were excessively long, but I know that I will never mess up further and farther ever again. Ever.
(If you care, farther is used when relating to distance and further is when relating a degree or magnitude of something. That store is ‘farther’ down the road than the other one – versus – I am further along in the book than my brother.) Boom. You’re welcome.
The reason this email stuck out to me is that she actually wrote to me as if she would talk to my face. She didn’t write cowardly behind her computer with some unfounded jabs at my intelligence. Humanity, who would have thought?
I know this is a weird story about viewer emails when they can be so mean, hateful, scary, gross and even threatening, but it’s so vivid for me. I try to take away what I can and then let it roll off my back as fast I as I can hit the delete button, but if you treat someone in an email as you would treat them in person, we may actually listen to what you have to say.
Even with this glimmer of hope that not all viewers emails are bad, I still do keep a folder of “If I go missing check these people first.”
Next up, the experience from NBC Connecticut traffic anchor Hanna Mordoh.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. The old adage is one we all know, but sometimes comments can still sting.
As journalists, we know the power of words. Words can inspire, instill change, tell a story and they can tear someone down. I have been in news broadcasting for more than 6 years, in 3 different states and stations across the country. People have called my desk phone to threaten me, commented on my cheap clothes and critique my makeup (you need to change your lipstick).
I welcome critiques and criticism and hey, some of it is helpful. However, what’s not helpful is when viewers are downright mean. I try to brush the comments off, but last week I had been working a lot of extra hours and one Facebook post hit home… the viewer said, “You are a horrendous reporter wow. Learn proper English.” It hurt and stuck with me because it hit the core of what I work so hard to do well day in and day out. There was no explanation as to what I did that was so horrendous and when I kindly wrote back that I am sorry they felt that way and to have a nice day, there was no response.
I let this person get the best of me that day, as most of us do once in a while. However, I know my words can have power too. Power to tell people’s stories, change the wrongs in this world and inspire good in our communities.
That’s the power all journalists have and why we will not stay silent or let a few mean words hurt us.”
Jessica Reyes, a reporter at KCTV5 in Kansas City, MO:
“Need a diet? What are you wearing? You should fire your makeup artist.
All comments that hurt a few minutes, hours and some even days. Comments I was embarrassed of. Comments that made me second guess myself. Comments that instilled doubt.
Today, I laugh those off. But there’s one that still sticks with me…the most recent one: “How did they (my station) hire someone who doesn’t know English? I can’t understand you when you speak. I’m going to switch stations until you go back where you came from.”
6 years and 3 stations later I’ve been collecting viewer critiques…some constructive and others are downright mean. Some things I can change. I can lose weight, I can get new clothes, I can switch my makeup. But underneath all of that I’m still the same person…a Peruvian journalist working in American television.
I got that comment through a voicemail. The woman didn’t leave her name or number. She decided to share her thoughts and robbed me of the opportunity to do the same.
The reason her comment still stings is because she didn’t just insult me but she insulted what I hold dearest to my heart…my heritage.
Facts: English is my second language- I am an immigrant- I am the American dream. If you don’t like that, it sounds like a you-problem.
In the meantime, excuse me while I kick butt and take names.”
Heather Haley, a meteorologist with WVLT in Knoxville:
Would you ever walk into someone’s work and tell them, “I do not like your outfit!”
Would you stop a person at the grocery store and say, “Have you gained weight?”
Or even go as far to say to someone, “You should not have this job!”
Right, that would all be out of the question and something you would never say, so why do some take to the internet to share such thoughts. Sitting behind a keyboard somehow emboldens some people to say things they normally wouldn’t and still shouldn’t.
In my 11+ years in television, I’ve seen and heard quite a bit. It used to really hurt my feelings. I would look at some clothes in my closet and see the message pop-up from that one woman who thought this was not flattering on me. (Mind you, I cannot afford to just go buy new clothes, despite what some folks think about the “glamorous” world of TV news.)
The most recent hate email that came in, was a drawn-out demand that I leave WVLT. After 9+ years at one station, something very rare in this business, you think because you don’t like one person on the news that they “must go”! Since these people are never alone in their opinions, and can obviously speak for the masses, he included that we can expect many more emails requesting my resignation.
I replied to this bully with a simple email saying that I am happy to say that I am NOT going anywhere, and I like to include “thanks for watching” on these kind of messages.
I didn’t post about this email on my Facebook page at first, but I decided to a couple of days later. Why? It wasn’t upsetting me by any means, but I see these younger females, new to the business and the hate messages that can come with it, being emotionally torn apart by this junk. I tell them every time, you are not alone and that jerk is.
I decided to share this because I was picked on as a kid, and that bully didn’t back down until I stood up for myself.
I needed to share this, because every opportunity I get when visiting schools, I bring up bullies. I make sure that the kids who are being picked on, know they are not alone. They have a voice and someone like me will always stand up for them!
I don’t wonder where the bullies in schools learn this behavior, we’re getting messages, emails, and comments while trying to grocery shop from the adults around them.
And lastly, I want to share my experience. Last week a man messaged me about my weight. A woman told me she didn’t like my personality and the way I look. One time, a woman told me she just didn’t like my face. This is all part of the job. Delete, block, move on, not worth repeating.
One message, however, really stuck with me. It came from a grandmother. Let’s call her Betty, and her complaint was about my dress. Now let me say first, I probably wouldn’t wear this dress again. Before I put it on I questioned it and I probably should have listened to my gut. And it kills me to admit this, but I hear her concerns and understand why she didn’t like what I was wearing. (PIC to <—- ) But you tell me if you think this is a helpful, constructive or even nice way to contact a stranger:
BETTY: “Cleavage is the last thing that is needed when I turn TV on. Look at all the other morning ladies, no boobs showing. Call me a prude if you will, what to tell my kids when they ask….how come her shirt is down so far in front. What’s a good ans?”
NIKKI: Thank you for the message. I’m sorry you don’t like my dress. As for what you should tell your children, I would use this as an opportunity to teach that women are so much more than just their clothes, and that they should listen to what women say rather than judge them for their clothing choice.
This would be a great way to end things. Let’s agree to disagree. Change the channel. I’m not upset by her message, it’s clearly a personal preference. Instead, on the day I announced my promotion on air, when I was getting hugs from my coworkers and congratulatory messages from family and friends, my phone lit up with a message from Betty that changed my focus.
BETTY: “Look at your dress and look at (other news anchor)…which one is more appropriate for morning shows. We will most likely be changing morning news programs after this. You enjoy your morning slot . Not that it makes a bit of difference to lose 2 viewers, but at least we won’t have to turn on the TV each morning and see the devil at work. And don’t kid yourself…if course God loves you…but the devil is definitely at work in your life. No where in the bible does it say God likes to see women dressing provocatively. Have a Blessed day and good luck with your new position. Look around and see what you see …”
Let me reiterate something: Betty is a grandmother. She has GRANDCHILDREN. And here she is, messaging a stranger about how the devil is at work in her life because of a dress.
NIKKI: I know I probably shouldn’t justify your message with a response, but I must. First of all, if you don’t like me or my clothing choice, please, for goodness sake, just change the channel.
As a self-proclaimed Christian, you must have skipped over the part in the Bible that says you shouldn’t judge others. Here’s one of my favorite verses for you: Matthew 7:1-29 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. …” I will continue to pray for you as I have since the first message you sent me. I sincerely hope that whatever is making you feel this way is resolved in your life. I would also like to leave you with this, something my mom taught me and I try to live by: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And from here on out, please, just leave me alone.”
I wanted to quote Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Could you imagine? Betty’s head probably would have exploded.
I haven’t heard from Betty since. I probably could have just not responded in the first place, which is what I usually do for messages, but something about this bothered me.
Betty could have told me I was stupid, fat or she hated my face. I would have deleted the message and moved on. But Betty should know better. Betty should know better as a grandmother. As a woman. As a human being.
I hope she let Matthew 7:1-29 sink in a little. I hope her children and grandchildren don’t know about Betty’s Facebook messages with me. I hope they don’t think Betty’s behavior is acceptable and I hope they know better than to treat women this way. I hope they know that what a woman says is more important that what she wears. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
To be honest, I hope she changed channels.
I also hope fellow female journalists see these messages and know that they are not alone. That mean message you got was probably no different than ones reporters across the country receive. If you feel the need to respond, go for it. Just be careful, screen shots can come back and bite you in the butt. Take a step away from your computer, maybe even a day or two to think about it, and then if you still have the need to respond, go for it.
If not, delete it and move on. Or, if you’re one of the rare and lucky ones who actually gets a constructive criticism, thank them, take it to heart and make improvements.
Got a positive message? Thank them. And save it. You’ll need it for the next time you get a Betty message.
Have you been trolled? How did you deal with it?