Being cutting edge about the cutting edge nature of social media got KVOA reporter Marisa Mendelson cut out of her job at the local NBC affiliate.
Earlier this summer, Mendelson, part of the KVOA Investigators team, took the initiative and embarked on a path shared by numerous other reporters and news personalities who have experienced success and added audience connectivity through their use of Twitter-purchased streaming platform Periscope.
According to Mendelson, she was tipped off about the technology from a co-worker who had broadcast from in-studio, and decided to give it a try from home.
"One night from my home office, I sat at my desk, answered questions, showed (viewers) my dog, played a couple songs I had written, but there were no copyright issues and I didn't do anything inappropriate," Mendelson said. "I didn't talk negatively about the station. It was a simple, clean Periscope broadcast. It went really well. I got a lot of new followers and 27,000 hearts during it. For people on Periscope, you're rated on the heart system. The more hearts, the more people like your broadcasts. I was communicating with people all over the world. It was really incredible."
"Incredible" was short-lived.
Television news competitor KGUN has been something of a market trendsetter with the technology, and some of their staff members have also broadcast off-site, and from home. KOLD has hopped on board as well.
KVOA? Well, according to Mendelson, the NBC affiliate was really slow on the uptake, and didn't even comprehend what Periscope was, let alone its potential. Mendelson wasn't the first person at KVOA to download the program, nor the first employee at KVOA to broadcast on the platform, but she was the first to get scolded for it.
Under the guise of safety concerns.
"The next day at work, someone found out I was on Periscope and I got called into my news director's office in a meeting with our social media director," Mendelson said. "The news director said 'Don't go on Periscope until we have an official media policy to address it. I'm not happy you went on it from home.' She found it inappropriate and unprofessional to go on it from home as a news broadcaster because she was only familiar with stations like KGUN using it from their studios. One of the first concerns my news director raised was that she was afraid people could see I was at home, and it was a safety issue, and I tried to tell her absolutely not. You can turn off the (location) feature. She didn't really want to hear me out.
"Then I noticed multiple other people at my station were on Periscope, and actively using it. I also noticed someone at the station had used it two months prior to me being told not to use it. Yet I was still the only person told not to use it again until they had this alleged social media policy in place."
Mendelson says KVOA's social media director didn't even have a Periscope account at this point in time, but opened one immediately following the meeting. That account followed one person: Mendelson.
Shortly after that exchange, Mendelson succumbed to temptation.
"If they wanted a reason to fire me, I gave them one," Mendelson admitted, although it seems clear she was on KVOA's radar already. "One night my dog was in bed snoring, and I thought that was cute, so I turned on Periscope, and started broadcasting it. Immediately I got a notification the social media director was watching it. Here we go, I'm going to be in trouble."
The timing was such that KVOA allowed Mendelson to attend an investigative journalism conference in Philadelphia—on her own dime—but while she was away, Mendelson says the station called a mandatory staff meeting, attended by the station attorney, for the express purpose of outlining a social media dos and don'ts/can and can't strategy focused specifically on the use of Periscope.
At that meeting, says Mendelson, she was told the takeaway was common sense social media stuff.
Even though it would be hard to suggest Mendelson's Periscope broadcasts fell anywhere near the purview of station embarrassment, her direct incompliance was still more than enough for KVOA to pull the plug.
"When I got back I got called into the general manager's office," Mendelson says. "He said, 'We told you not to go on Periscope. You went back on anyway. We're going to have to unfortunately part ways with you because of insubordination.' They handed me my last paycheck. They informed me it was my final pay, and I would not be getting any more, and I'd have to sign up with COBRA if I wanted to get health insurance. That was it."
Whether Mendelson had other issues that led to using the Periscope incident as an impetus for removal is unknown, and while insubordination gave the station cause for dismissal, her actual involvement in the platform indicated a willingness to pursue a reality in television news. Stations are forced to branch out from their traditional shells and required to use social media while experimenting with its numerous incarnations and technological developments.
"Being active on social media and being innovative and creative in that arena is something a lot of stations want," Mendelson says. "Especially Periscope, whether you use it at the station or home—I did it on my own time—that could have brought a lot of web hits and new fans to the station. Unfortunately, the station did not want to listen to an employee's ideas who wasn't a manager. They only wanted me to do my job, which consisted of me turning around investigative packages and minding my own business in other arenas."