Journalists Who Put Themselves “Out There”

By , October 27, 2010 3:02 pm

Juan Williams joins the ranks of Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez who were fired or resigned from their respective news organizations for expressing their opinion. As you probably know, Williams was fired by NPR for his remarks on “The O’Reilly Factor” in which he expressed his feelings about seeing people in “Muslim garb” when he gets on a plane. “I get worried. I get nervous,” he said.

Here’s the entire interview.

Thomas, Nasr, Sanchez and Williams were let go for expressing personal opinions in informal settings or places where they were the interview subjects. Because they put themselves in positions where the public was looking for the them to offer insight, perspective and a bit of their personality, their opining put them in positions to get in trouble with their employers.

Embracing the new media age where journalists and news organizations are trying to get their brands on many different platforms is turning out to be tricky. Some embrace this, but it’s also making it hard to appear impartial, and for some, stay employed. Not all personalities or opinions are likable, and everyone has fears and prejudices. It’s a balance – or tension – between getting more of the personal brand or personality “out there” to help grow the professional brand, while not having either brand offend anyone. It’s like the new digital age is telling them, “Put more of yourself out there, but don’t let anyone see who you really are.”

I’m not condoning what any of them said, but terminating someone isn’t necessarily the way to handle mistakes like these. If media companies want more content, how about having a substantive discussion with the journalist about why the offending remark was made? If a remark wasn’t made out of gross recklessness or unadulterated bigotry, there maybe an opportunity to explore where the remark came from, why it was made and inform the public about the issues surrounding it. News organizations are constantly looking for content to put on air, online and in print. There’s your content.

In the case of Williams, a good idea would have been to have thoughtful discussion about the origins of bigotry and fear how and to overcome them.. and have it on NPR.

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