Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Malicious gossip

Several years ago I worked in television news as a commentator and one of the bosses.

An unnamed tension was buidling among the news staff - I needed to find out why.

I was told the women reporters did not want to be assigned to work with a specific photographer. Why? Because they were told he assaulted a woman reporter with whom he shot a story at the last station he worked - because they had differences about how the story should be done.

I was stunned, because I thought I knew this photographer and his temperament well - he shot coverage footage as well as special story coverage in the field with me.

My investigation of the personality and the rumor simply didn't add up. I considered it downright suspicious.

But, the story was believed by the staff and dissention continued to build.

Time for a little bread and butter journalism/detective work.

I tracked down the original source. Turns out, the member of my staff who started the story knew someone at the photographer's former station - which is where he heard it.


OK. More work.

Cut to the chase.

I called the news director at that station and asked him about his impressions of the photographer. Terrific on all counts. Work and good to work with. Very smart. Informed.

Anything else?

No, why.

Any problems with him being temperamental, abusive-

Absolutely not. Oh, one time he got into an argument with a diva reporter here and told her to stop speaking disrespectfully to him and the other photographers. He felt she wasn't treating them professionally. She complained that he was out of line, but he wasn't at all. I backed him up 100% - I was ready to speak with her about her inappropriate treatment of our shooters. But he beat me to it. That's it.

That's it.

That's it.


Great. This is a major market *newsroom.* We are all supposed to be journalists and someone working here is being treated like a pariah - based on malicious gossip whose veracity was never checked.

I called in the staff member who initiated the rumor and told him what happened - the truth. He was horrified. He called his source at the photographer's former station in front of me, who said the woman reporter told him about the so-called assault.

When asked about it directly, she recanted her story and admitted it was more like an argument. But she still insisted she was verbally abused and took no responsibility for her actions.

The staff member said he passed on the story because he was concerned about one of the women reporters here who was a friend. I had him tell the photographer directly what actually happened, what he said to the staff, why he said it and apologize to the photographer.

Then I instructed him to tell every person he told the real story, with an apology for passing on a story that was basically malicious gossip. More, that the person he told had to do the same for anyone she or he may have passed the story on to.

Fortunately, the offending staff member, when confronted with the truth, took responsibility for his behavior - for spreading a vicious rumor, hurting an innocent man: tarnishing his reputation as well as creating a hurtful work atmosphere, discomfort for him as well as creating a negative ambience in the workplace.

After everyone was notified, I held a staff meeting to clear the air and celebrate the photographer who had been suffering for months because of the nebulous ill will floating in the air that he could never pinpoint or understand.

He described the exchange between the reporter and himself, which was hardly an altercation, let alone an assault. Nonetheless the reporter was livid that he criticized her, and even more so that the news director supported him when they told his boss about their exchange. The reporter is generally seen as the leader in the photographer-reporter team.

A hearty discussion followed about lessons learned and the unfortunate outcome that could have resulted if this lie had not been smacked on the back of the head when it was with the truth.

Fortunately, this story had a happy ending - and there was a significantly increased sensitivity in the newsroom regarding not only social conversation and behavior but, more importantly, news coverage.

The parallel between personal behavior and professional and ethical behavior became pretty clear.

Double check the facts. Always.

As someone who has been hurt by untruthful gossip in the past, I can only encourage you to ask for evidence when someone passes on malicious words about someone - even if it's someone you don't particularly care for.

Left to grow in its own bacteria, hurtful, malicious, gossip like my newsroom story can turn into a legal mess, engendering lawsuits and legal payoffs - not just involving the station (workplace) but every inividual along the line who passed on the misery-making mess.

All of it unnecessary if it's investigated, the truth found and the falsehoods nipped in the bud.

BTW, if gossip, investigated, turns out to be factual? It's no longer gossip but fact. And needs to be dealt with as fact.


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