Social media has proven an excellent and useful tool for journalists to distribute their stories and to connect with readers and viewers, alike. But these popular platforms also hold the potential to create some major conundrums, especially as the lines between reporters' professional and personal lives blur. This is a lesson that Shea Allen, an investigative reporter who, until last Friday, worked for WAAY-TV, a Huntsville, Alabama, ABC affiliate, learned all too well.
Why She Was Fired
TheBlaze spoke with the unemployed journalist about the now-infamous blog entry that led to her dismissal from the station. First, let's look at what she wrote. In a post entitled, "Confessions of a Red Headed Reporter," Allen detailed some "confessions" that ended up landing her in hot water.
Shea Allen (Photo Credit: WAAY-TV)
Here's her list of 10 edgy and comical confessions:
1. I've gone bra-less during a live broadcast and no one was the wiser.
2. My best sources are the ones who secretly have a crush on me.
3. I am better live when I have no script and no idea what I'm talking about.
4. I've mastered the ability to contort my body into a position that makes me appear much skinner in front of the camera than I actually am.
5. I hate the right side of my face.
6. I'm frightened of old people and I refuse to do stories involving them or the places they reside.
7. Happy, fluffy, rainbow stories about good things make me depressed.
8. I've taken naps in the news car.
9. If you ramble and I deem you unnecessary for my story, I'll stop recording but let you think otherwise.
10. I've stolen mail and then put it back. (maybe)
Allen told TheBlaze that she started the personal blog some time ago and that she only sporadically posts on it. Last Wednesday, while enjoying a glass of wine and relaxing after work, she said she had a little down time. So, she composed the snarky list on the blog, thinking little of it.
"I put it up, because I thought it was funny," Allen said. "I didn't promote it on my station Facebook."
The journalist said that she shared it on her personal Facebook page -- but that didn't stop it from coming to the attention of her bosses. On Friday, while she was in the middle of trying to complete an assignment, Allen said that she was brought into the office and scolded.
A screen shot from Shea Allen's personal blog
When Allen entered the room to meet with her bosses, she was consumed with worry about her news product and the assignment she was late on completing; she had no idea that her time with WAAY-TV was about to come to a close.
"They handed me a copy of the blog post. The very first thing out of my mouth was, 'This is my personal blog -- this is my personal space," she said.
How Her Bosses Responded
But her higher-ups weren't settled with that response. Allen claims they told her that the blog did harm to the station and that it would cause those viewing newscasts to wonder "what kind of people" work there. This, she said, was particularly surprising, as the reporter had worked hard, gaining a number of award nominations (two AP Southeast awards, including a reporter of the year nomination). In Allen's view, she was well-respected.
Despite her stated accomplishments, the journalist was purportedly fired on the spot. Of the issues on the list, she said that sleeping in the news car was the one that seemed to upset her bosses the most. Allen explained, though, that she would sometimes close her eyes for 10 minutes in between stories on 13-hour workdays and that other reporters could relate to these short snooze sessions.
"I was never told to take it down," she said of the blog post, adding that she believes that, given her past work, she should have been given another chance. "I feel that my performance has been way above par and that I had earned the right of a second change -- or even 10 chances."
Photo Credit: Shea Allen/Twitter
Following the dismissal, Allen said people were "floored" and surprised that she had been let go. Among the calls she received were messages from the mayor's office in Huntsville, as she was respected there and her sources were stunned by what unfolded.
So, What Happened to the Blog Post?
Following her dismissal, the reporter removed the blog post, saying that she didn't want to harm her co-workers and those she respected at the station. Later, though, Allen had a change-of-heart.
"That's sending the wrong message," she said of her initial removal. "I'm supposed to be a protector of peoples' rights ... I have freedom of speech."
So, Allen re-posted the entry and added the words "No Apologies" in the header. Now, accompanying the list is a description of why she re-published it:
This post was taken down because I was momentarily misguided about who I am and what I stand for. To clarify, I make no apologies for the following re-post. It's funny, satirical and will likely offend some of the more conservative folks. But it isn't fake and its a genuine look into my slightly twisted psyche.
Here's the thing, I've vowed to always fight for the right of free expression. It's allowed, no matter what the profession. I pride myself in having earned the respect of many because I make no apologies for the truth and hold nothing back. I don't fight for things because they serve me, I fight for them because they are right. Sources trust me because I am an unadulterated version of the truth. I won't ever bend just because its popular to do so and I'm not bending now.
Allen understands why some of the elements on the list would raise eyebrows, but she said that the items, though true, were posted in humor and in good fun -- and that other reporters would relate. In the end, despite being fired, she still contends that it was her personal space on which she published the list and that this is her right.
"There's this huge grey area," she added. "I feel what I do in my personal space is protected by the First Amendment."
Allen is still stunned and noted that not returning to work today was extremely difficult.
"I poured my soul into that station for two years," she added of her work at WAAY-TV.
The future remains an open book, as Allen struggles to figure out what's next.
Allen's Other Struggles
But being let go isn't her only dilemma. Allen is a single mother who cares for her son. Years ago, she remembers being told that she wouldn't be able to make it in the journalism world. Considering that she had a child as she was preparing to start her career, the odds were stacked against her.
Still, Allen said she forged on. After working at a number of stations, she arrived at WAAY back in 2011 and, by her own accord, made a splash.
Now, she has to figure out how to support her son -- a feat that could prove difficult, as Allen claims the station told her that her non-compete clause will prevent her from working for competitors in the area. Despite their alleged refusal to allow her to seek nearby employment, she said they did pledge to provide a reference.
Allen is hoping to get out of her contract and stay in Huntsville, as she contends that her "options are limited" -- at least at the moment. Noting that her son is her first priority and that his father and grandparents are in Atlanta, she doesn't, at present, have the ability to simply move to another market.
TheBlaze reached out to Art Lanham, general manager at the station, but we have not yet heard back to learn more about WAAY-TV's side of the story. We did reach two former co-workers, though, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Both praised Allen's work ethic.
"She's a good worker. When she caught wind of something ... and wants to work on it, she goes all out," one said of Allen's story-gathering skills.
"She was one of the only reporters at my station that I would consider trustworthy get the story 100 percent accurate and to actually do the work," another added.
Neither agreed with the decision to let Allen go, with one former colleague adding, "They just trampled on the First Amendment rights of all journalists [and] all people out there."
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