I recently encountered an ethical dilemma at my job on campus and for the first time in my life, I was speechless. Literally, I was speechless. Someone tried to take away my first amendment rights and told me what I could and couldn’t write about. In a time when unbiasedness in journalism is so critical, this is the last thing I ever expected someone to tell me. This is a story of how I almost lost my job as a result of a recently published article.
Let me give you some context so you can better understand what’s going through my mind. On Thursday, March 16, I published a front-page story in my school’s newspaper about the university using student pictures for their marketing campaigns without asking for consent. Basically, because my school is a public institution, they can take a picture of a student and use it for whatever type of marketing they want, whenever they want. For example, one of the students I interviewed was pictured on a transfer student booklet and students started recognizing him and asking for his help. There’s only one problem, he’s not a transfer student. This particular student voiced that he didn’t like the attention this brochure was bringing him and wished the university asked him before using his image.
The story was well received by most, but with any story, there was some backlash. I just never expected it to come from my own boss, who I had been working with for almost a year. This past Monday when I went to work my two bosses asked me to sit down with them. I was hit with the typical “Do you know why we’re talking with you?” and I honestly had no idea. They proceeded to voice their concern with my recently published story, claiming that I put the office in a negative light. They claimed because I mentioned students who were unhappy being featured on publications that our office produces, I broke their trust and gave the office a bad reputation.
Let me clarify something, I love my job, which isn’t typical among other 19-year-olds. I love the work my office does, I love my co-workers, I love my bosses and I simply love spending time with all of these people. But after being treated this type of way it really made me consider if I felt comfortable working there anymore. I’m a student first, a journalist second and work comes third. I’ll never let someone else determine what I can or can’t be writing or let anybody change my work because they don’t like it. If I let someone completely change the tone of my writing, it wouldn’t be my original work anymore and I wouldn’t feel comfortable publishing it.
My bosses wanted to meet with me again this past Thursday, and when they asked me how I was feeling I stood up for myself, defended my work and didn’t back down even when they still tried to convince me that I was targeting the office that I work for. Let me get something straight, if I wanted to make that office the focus of my article, I could have. I would have mentioned their name in the article and talked about them. But not once did I do that in my article, so I stand by my writing and no matter what they say, I value my writing more than my job at that office.
Here’s the sappy moral of the story: don’t take no for an answer. When my bosses told me that my story (that I wrote and planned out) was wrong they crossed the line. It’s my right to freedom of speech and if I want to write something, I should be and am allowed to write it. Never let anyone determine what you can or can’t do. The only thing stopping you from doing something is doing it. Not anyone else’s false perceptions of your work, just you physically and mentally doing it.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be working in that office, but if there is one thing I’ll take away from my time there it’s exactly that message. As I continue to grow up and advance in the journalistic workforce, I’m sure there are going to be people that won’t like my work. And that’s fine, people are entitled to their opinions. This whole fiasco has been a learning experience. At first, I was so shocked I didn’t really know what to say and I was defenseless. Now I know that I need to be prepared for situations like this, and if people don’t like my work, so what? I’ll tell them, sorry what’s written is written and move on.
I never planned on quitting this job and frankly, this past week has just been a mess. In the end, if this is what it takes to stay on the right track to becoming a journalist, sometimes it’s the tough decisions that pay off the most in the end. I’m proud of my writing and the work I do. And if anyone ever tries to tell me what I can or can’t write in the future, I know they’re not people that I need to be surrounding myself with and that’s not the right environment to be working in.