Newsrooms are notorious for hazing. It happens often in larger markets, but we’ve seen it in small markets too. You have to prove to coworkers that you deserve the job. You don’t truly have friends in the workplace. Everyone is out for themselves. Why? Because so many people are quitting the biz, less experienced people are being hired. Some veterans in the newsroom, find this tiring and insulting. I started in a large market right away and quickly wound up in another big city. The hazing was awful. I was asked if I slept with the news director to get my job. I had reporters and anchors purposely rewrite copy to insert factual and grammatical errors to try and get rid of me. One anchor even told me and several other producers it was his “God given right” to torture and make me cry. He had the cry test and graded you on how long it took before you broke down. People hide your gear, steal your rolodex, sit on the set during commercials and laugh at your news copy. Coworkers don’t want to carry dead weight. Many times fellow journalists will decide you are a moron unless you prove your worth, and quickly. So do it. Here’s how.
The number 1 rule: Don’t involve management. Management doesn’t care. Period. There are too many other things they have to take care of.
However, you should take the reigns and show the hazers you are not the patsy they think you are. That starts with exposing dirty tricks. The best place to start is befriending the IT person in the newsroom. You know, the person who knows all the ins and outs of the computer system you use each day. This person can save you. News programs like AP Newscenter, ENPS and iNews have ways to call up past scripts and show who wrote each and every version. This will give you a chance to document and show proof if an anchor or associate producer is rewriting copy and putting in fact errors which they blame on you. In some systems you even can lock a script so no one else can rewrite and put in fact errors or change the context of the story once your executive producer copy edits it. Ask for this ability and you may receive. Chances are your executive producer will play ball because you will then have documentation the EP can use to get some staffers to shape up.
You can also often find instant messages from all the computers every day. Yep, all those annoying, petty and smarmy comments binging and dinging around you can be a click or two away. Print them and hand them over to management. This can get tricky because management won’t like you digging through the system. But if it is in a forum where everyone could potentially have access they can yell at you and send a fiery memo saying don’t go there, but you won’t be fired. Once the nasty top lines are exposed many newsroom bullies shut up or at least save it for the parking lot after work. How’s that for investigative journalism? Even more fun: dump copies of the nasty top lines under the news director’s door anonymously so even he/she has to wonder who’s watching.
Also remember, many staffers who bully love to dish in the studio. They think it’s a secret hideout. Newsflash: Mics are everywhere. It’s easy to “accidentally” turn one on, hear and record the petty comments. The studio is the one place where there truly should never be any expectation of privacy. That’s not what the room is for. The picked on should wander through the studio to “plot out a section of the rundown” right when a gossip session is underway. Then, smile as if you are going to dish it all. Another move is to “accidentally” have the mics kept live during a commercial break when there’s an anchor who loves to trash everyone in those breaks. Normally, when the nasty hazers get caught once or twice, they’ll back off.
What if the hazer likes to get in your face and yell at you in the middle of the newsroom? This one is easy. Just ignore the person. Sit back in your chair, with your hands behind your head, gaze up at the lunatic putting on the show and wait until they either explode into pieces before your eyes or finally shut up. Then as the hazer stares at you indignantly, simply ask: “Are you done?” Then just go back to work like nothing happened. This will drive the bully nuts. If that hazer really pushes it, follow up with, “You can say what you want about me because bottom line, I’m not the one who just had an unholy hissy fit in the middle of the newsroom. You can’t expect your actions to prove you have anything worthy to say to anyone.” Then get back to your work.
Lastly, sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire and stand up to the hazer. I once told an anchor who said I was “too young to write for her” that it’s not my fault she couldn’t handle that someone so much younger was just as capable of working in the same city and on the same shift as her. She told me she’d have me fired. I told her I had proof that she was purposely rewriting copy with errors and printing them to try and prove me incompetent. I asked her if she would like to come with me to turn those documents into the news director so she could try and explain it, or would she prefer the news director to mull the evidence over before calling her in for a chat. She backed off. Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you stand up to a hazer as well.