Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dear Megan: This Wasn't About Being Bullied, This is Part of the Job

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Dear Megan:

Maybe you can add this list to the bullying you feel you received after the piece you did on Washington State University and Pullman. But that's not my intention. In newspaper years, kinda like dog years, I'm an old lady, so look at this as a bit of advice, the kind of advice I give our interns and other young people trying to make their way into this business. I'd recommend a different path, but maybe we can talk about that over lunch sometime.

Like you, I got my start at the Arizona Daily Wildcat when I was attending the UA long, long ago. I loved my experience there, and know that that experience is a bit different for this new generation. I started off on the news desk, spent a summer doing layout and Police Beat and ended my time on the arts desk doing features and got my start as a theater critic. The Wildcat was my second home during my last two years of college and many of the people I worked with were like family.

Your story took me back to a time before the internet. I've been doing this for more than 20 years and only took five years off for a short stint in nonprofit work. I was in newspapers before desktop publishing. At the Wildcat, one of my last great editors always pissed people off with her editorials. One in particular was an experience the entire staff felt for several weeks. Back then, Lute Olson was being lured away by Kentucky and good ol' Lute said he'd stay if the UA gave him more money. Kind of like now, UA students were being stretched thin. Many of us were well-acquainted with Top Ramen, and my roommate and I shared an apartment in a Section 8 complex near Grant and Euclid. Great training for journalism life today.

The editor wrote that maybe the UA and Tucson had to face facts. Maybe we couldn't afford Lute Olson anymore and that he needed to move on. People freaked. The office had nonstop phone calls from angry Tucson residents. We had death threats and a few male staffers spent the night in the newsroom because some threatened to destroy our newsroom. We were worried. It was genuine. Our editor was calm, even as she was interviewed by AP, BBC, and local and other national news. Eventually everyone moved on and forgot about it, but I liked the fact that my editor stood up for what she wrote at the time, never flinched and never pointed fingers elsewhere. I mentioned it to her a couple of years ago when she was inducted into the Wildcat Hall of Fame, and she brushed it off.

She called it ridiculous. Ridiculous, Megan, because I'll tell you, I'm sure my former editor faced bigger issues as she continued in her career. I know I did, and if you continue on this path, this act of bullying you say you faced will be small potatoes—at least I hope so. It would be sad for this to be the highlight of your work in journalism for many reasons. But for five minutes, at Weekly World Central, we talked about your column. Sweetheart, it's pretty ridiculous to compare yourself to a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide. Not only is it disrespectful to that kid and others who face real cyber bullying, but after reading the work you make yourself look silly.

I have a 12-year-old son who has faced real bullying. We have, I can assure you, faced the most amazing obstacles together regarding school and education. He's amazing and I'm blessed and a lucky woman. He puts up with having a mother in this business, which means from time to time, he has to get dragged to meetings and protests, and he has heard me complain around the house that someone is mad at me or wrote something in response to something I wrote or I have an odd Twitter follower. Only one time, in all these years, has he responded to one attack. He took it personally and I was reminded it's probably not wise to always share work stuff (but the kid has my back, and I have his. Familia).

But let's get real. If I wrote what you did and received the same response, my kid, my editor and my small group of friends would have told me, "Well, what did you expect?" They may have Tweeted back to a few with their own screed and they probably would have reminded me of the last time something like this happened, and maybe we would have grabbed a couple of beers. You said some stupid stuff. People are pissed. Deal with it. But don't treat this like anything more. Maybe a reflection or even an apology to the city of Pullman would have been a good start. I was happy to see this. It's a good start:

Don't use modern-day comparisons to cyber bullying and repaint yourself as some sort of victim. You are not a victim. You are a journalist and this is only the beginning, so toughen up. The internet is a nasty place, and so is the world, and so is the newsroom. It's not fun to be called a slut, whore, cunt or bitch or have a hashtag like #MeganCoghlanSucks, but this is not going to be the first time you will have this happen. You're lucky your editor gave you the space to respond, because not many editors will do that in the future. One day, people will smarten up and realize that when they disagree with a woman, there are more creative words to describe us—but I'm afraid we are a long way from that time. Sad, but true, so we move on and fight the battles as the come along.

You delivered smack-talk and it got handed back to you. This is a sexist society and world. I'm not excusing the asses, I'm just preparing you. Your mother or aunts probably haven't and maybe the J-School hasn't talked about it. But when you walk into that meeting, that game or that future newsroom, pretend it's the ’80s, but instead of putting on shoulder pads, pretend you have balls. Seriously. I was raised by a single mother and she always reminded me that life is unfair, but she never really explained sexism and she didn't know the crazy shit journalists face, all genders.

Cry at home. Prepare yourself to argue and stand up for yourself with male editors and male publishers. Don't take shit from anyone. Stand up for your work in a way that makes sense professionally. You're in this business. People will say shit about you—some based on truth and some made up. Megan, I want to see you take over sports journalism and kick ass, but don't ever offer this kind of response again when you are attacked. If you stick with it, it will happen again. I promise. Prepare yourself. Toughen up.

This is what I want to see next:


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