How to Handle Haters: Journalist Edition

We’ve all had to deal with them: I call ‘em haters.

Journalists indubitably have to face the (oftentimes) unjust and inaccurate criticisms of those who don’t like what we have reported and written. With the Web, our work is constantly under scrutiny, and anyone has the opportunity to comment on the story’s content, the reporter, and the reporter’s mother.

The “haters” vary — be it municipal public information officers, school board members, politicians or just a publication subscriber, if you haven’t ticked someone off enough to receive a nasty letter or angry phone call the morning of publication, (despite your unbiased, factual and carefully edited reporting, of course), you’re probably not doing it right.

Florida Democratic influential and political adviser Andrew Fladell was just sharing his opinions with guests during a West Boca Community Council meeting. Suddenly he launches into a short rant, hatin’ on the press.

His words were strong. Fladell makes several generalizations about the press, saying that journalists have “no respect for their own profession” and “no respect for their country.”

But South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Marci Shatzman, who was in the crowd covering the meeting, just couldn’t handle it. She stands up, interrupting the speaker to answer back, and promptly storms out. (You can watch the video of this happening here).

Shatzman: “I totally disagree [with the criticism of journalists]. I’m a member of the press and I’m not going to sit and listen to this crap. I’m leaving. …You won’t have a [expletive] bit of coverage. Goodbye.”

Fladell: “The press does not know its bounds.”

Shatzman [to the audience]: “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Now, don’t get me wrong — my blood started to boil when I heard Fladell’s comments. I do think there’s something to be said for standing up for yourself and what you know is right. However, there is a time and a place for this, and that was neither Shatzman’s time nor place. She is a veteran reporter, who I’m sure has heard much worse about herself and fellow journalists over the years. Being a reporter and a teller of truth invites critique and unfortunately, at times, denigration. If you’re not being criticized, people either aren’t reading your work or taking you seriously.

It’s not fun to read mean comments on your stories or hear the mayor go off on why journalists are the scum of the earth, but it’s just a part of the day job, folks. So…

Keep your cool

It’s not worth your energy — or potentially your job — to respond to such hare-brained statements. Be the bigger person. To me, Shatzman’s actions sort of give credence to Fladell’s allegation that journalists don’t know our bounds. Note: it is not within our boundaries to yell at a speaker while on assignment, no matter how wrong or out of line he may be. Repeat slowly to yourself.

Here’s an example of a Dallas-based TV reporter remaining calm even after being shoved by a local politician.

Remember whom you represent

Yes, you’re an individual, a human being with emotions and the capability of having a meltdown, but at the end of the day, it’s really not about you. You represent a larger entity, an editor who might have to fend for you, a respected news organization that has a reputation to uphold. If you feel yourself close to boiling over, step back and remember that you’re not just representing yourself. Shatzman’s outburst makes a statement about the Sun-Sentinel that they probably don’t appreciate having to dispel.

Plus, she was formerly a journalism professor at Temple University. If she were still teaching, what example would this incident be setting for her young and impressionable students who hope to be press members someday?