As journalists, writers and editors, we’re told every day to “think outside the box” and nurture our creative drive. We think of brilliant covers, witty headlines and turn useless jargon into poetic prose.
But what happens when an innovative thought backfires?
Recently, a journalist named Khristopher Brooks was fired before he even officially began a new job at the News Journal in Wilmington, Del. because he manufactured a “press release” using a quote from his hiring letter, the company logo and a few choice words about his arduous job search before graduating from New York University’s literary reportage graduate program. It was posted (and still is) on his very public Tumblr account.
Brooks had previous training in journalism, with previous jobs at the Omaha World Herald, the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier and as a writer with NYTimes.com and the Associated Press—he’s a Chips Quinn Scholar, which selects aspiring journalists/editors when they’re undergrads to place them in full-time, 12-week internships with big-name papers such as the Providence Journal (where I interned as a CQS), Austin (Texas) American-Statesman or the Tennesseean.
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Still, he has little regret, as proven with a recent interview with The Loop 21. But what do others think? I did a quick poll of some TMG editors to see if they thought this viral statement would help or hurt his career, and the results vary:
“I think a firing this public will definitely follow him around for a few years. It’s going to be difficult for him to get a job,” says Emili Vesilind, senior editor at JCK. “What he did showed questionable judgment, and made him seem immature to his new employers. You don’t publicize sentiments from your bosses meant expressly for you. But I don’t think this was grounds for firing. It’s clear he was just really excited about nabbing a job in this horrible job climate. They should have asked him to take it down, given him a good talking-to, and moved on.”
“It’s worth considering that the reasons the paper gave for firing him (those that they could document and make a case for) were not the actual reasons for which he was fired,” says Managing Editor Corey Murray. “Considering his writing, tone and language, it’s my guess the paper’s editors decided they’d made a mistake and that it’d be best to break with this guy before things got worse. I can’t believe how many people on this board are mistaking this as enthusiasm, when it’s clearly a symptom of something much more troubling–at least for a journalist.”
“My thoughts—and this is mostly from the time I’ve spent teaching a journalism course at the University of Maryland: One of the first things we teach budding journalists in entry level journalism courses in college is that a major part of being a journalist involves being transparent when quoting people in articles,” says Managing Editor January Payne.
“I think where Khristopher primarily went wrong was in quoting from his offer letter without informing the editor he’d be quoted. That said, I do applaud his creativity, and I believe he’ll land on his feet. I think he’d probably do well in public relations or marketing because he certainly knows how to create a buzz. It’s a tough lesson, to be sure, but I do not believe it is a career ending one. It’s simply another example of why people should give careful thought to what they post online because you never know who is reading.”
Though the idea of a press release lauding your new gig is entertaining, it’s probably more appropriate for a holiday letter to the family, or a private email to a mentor—and purely as a joke. It’s natural to be enthusiastic about a new job, but had Brooks taken a step back to think about the implications on posting a something with such a braggart tone on a public place (and naming the newspapers that didn’t hire him, which looks spiteful), he would have seen this coming. In a world where social media dominates, professionalism is of the utmost importance.
So what do you think? Was his firing justified, or should he have been given another chance?
[Image: David H. Chu]