Personnel decisions are often more complicated than they appear to the public, but Lee seems to be in the right here. News organizations are not ordinary businesses. They have a duty to the public to inform and educate. What Rhonda Lee did in responding to those Facebook posts was correct misinformation on a Web page administered by the station as well as educate viewers about African American culture. Lee was using social media as a journalist; she did exactly what she should have.

But she shouldn’t have needed to do anything, because the station should have responded first, either by taking the comments down (most organizations have a policy of deleting racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise inappropriate comments) or by replying in a way that supported its African American staff members and viewers.

Because let’s not forget that, according to the US Census Bureau, just over half of Shreveport is black. Those African American viewers are watching the station and reading its Facebook page; letting racist comments linger is offensive to them and implies that the organization doesn’t respect its black viewers.

News organizations’ social media guidelines shouldn’t be about image control, and they shouldn’t be about gagging journalists. They should be about maintaining high standards of journalism. Lee did her job by correcting a cultural misapprehension. She should be applauded, not fired.


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Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years.