The other day I read a story about a reporter being fired for calling Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson “bruh” on Twitter.
The reasoning behind the firing as cited by the Dallas Morning News, was a violation of the paper’s social media policy.
Many news organizations have social media policies in place as a means to try to provide guardrails for a mostly unregulated, constantly available, nonstop temptation to create content.
I am not going to weigh in on whether I think the reporter should have been fired aside from saying that, in my time working as an editor for newspapers, I have fired people for less when their actions reflected poorly on the organization. At a minimum, the reporter should have been reminded of the expectations for conduct expected of journalists representing the news organization.
I am also not going to give oxygen to the questions about whether the use of the word “bruh,” as well as the firing, were racially motivated.
What I will say is, I do not see any circumstance where anyone in a position of authority should be called “bruh” by a journalist on social media.
Taking it a step further, I would go so far as to say that a journalist should not call anyone “bruh” on social media.
There is enough mistrust and lack of respect circulating against the field of journalism without reporters scoring an own goal by making the point for people who claim that all journalists are bad.
Again, this is not about the word “bruh.” It is about the lack of respect and the familiar tone being used with a public official. There are myriad other words that could have been substituted for “bruh” and the result would have been the same.
It should be noted that the reporter in Dallas is not the first journalist to get too “familiar” with a public figure on social media. Nor are they likely to be the last.
In many ways, the rise of social media and its relaxation of societal norms is partly to blame for the lowering of the bar in terms of communication expectations.
It also doesn’t help the argument when some politicians and other public figures are equally guilty of lowering the communication bar on social media through their own posts.
Still, members of the media should be held to a higher standard of conduct. This standard covers what they say on social media, as well as what they count as truth found there.
As I have noted before, social media posts should not be the sole sources for any article written by a real journalist. That is just lazy reporting and opens up the reporter to all kinds of scrutiny.
The use of social media posts as “sources” is a column for another day.
The reporter’s defense of using the word “bruh” was that as a millennial that is just the way she talks.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have long had issues with certain things that millennials have brought to the table compared to other generations.
However, this is not a column about millennials.
Despite recently celebrating a birthday, this proud Gen-Xer is still far too young to be the guy standing on the porch shouting at the “kids” to get off of his lawn. Still, I am old enough to know that respect should be given by journalists to the people they cover.
Respecting someone’s position does not mean that you have to agree with everything they say or do, or that you necessarily have to like the person you are covering on a personal level.
It also doesn’t mean that as a journalist you stop doing your job of speaking truth to power and holding people accountable for their actions.
However, it does mean that while doing that job you do not call a mayor “bruh,” or anything other word that does not show respect for the position.
Again, there is a difference between respecting an individual, versus respecting the position they hold.
In my years covering school boards and city councils, there have certainly been officials that I have disagreed with. However, whenever I was writing about them, I would state the facts and let the voters draw their own conclusions.
I also know that there have been people who did not like how persistent I was in covering certain issues.
Although they likely wished I was reassigned to a different beat, they always understood that I had a job to do and that I would cover them respectfully and fairly.
My respect for a person’s position has been a standard throughout my educational career as well. Even though I have had professors younger than some of the t-shirts in my closet, I still respect their role and address them accordingly.
I am sure that I take that to an extreme, but I would rather err on the side of respect than to try to be informal and cute on social media by de-formalizing language while blurring the line between reporter and source.
Going back to the Dallas incident, even if I was not directly involved in covering the political beat, as a representative of the newspaper, I would respect both my colleagues and the mayor and give them both the respect they their positions warranted.
Common courtesy used to be pretty easy to find.
Unfortunately, lately it seems like it is not as common as it once was.
By the time I am that old man standing on the porch shouting at the kids to get off of my lawn, I shudder to think how far the lack of respect within society will fall.
It may force me to be tempted to stay inside.
At the end of the day, there are certainly bigger issues facing the world than whether a reporter who hopefully was taught better in Journalism school used informal speech to address a person elected by a majority of voters.
However, if one stops calling out troubling things, than they become societal norms.
I am often reminded of a paper I wrote 30-years ago during my freshmen year of college about this wonderful thing called the internet and the Information Superhighway that was going to connect the world and put vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips as a means to make a better more united society.
I misplaced that paper a few years back, and have looked for it off and on ever since. Something tells me that were I to locate it now, I would be sorely disappointed by what was predicted and what came to pass.
Instead of bringing us together, in many ways the technology continues to sow division and turn us into a society of silos where no one really knows how to talk constructively and work together.
If we are not careful with how we control social media, we may discover it is a “memes” to an end.
Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about “bruh” has me in the mood to watch some old surfing movies.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson