As a lifelong fan and coach of media personalities, I am sad when talented people shoot their career in the foot.
We all know that you will inevitably offend somebody if you are being authentic and entertaining, but the line keeps moving. Career-ending mistakes usually involve egregious content and/or workplace behavior.
When it comes to content, some complain that today’s politically correct audiences can be oversensitive to edgy humor that used to get laughs.
Many times an audience member is so concerned that someone else might be offended that it kills their own appreciation of the content. If that concerned audience member is one of your advertisers…guess what happens next?
How you interact with others off air is important. When I started in broadcasting in the 1980’s, there were fewer lawyers, corporate suits and HR rules. Shamefully, many of us behaved like drunken louts.
Let us now learn from the mistakes of others. Here are seven easily avoidable transgressions that cost some talented media personalities their job or reputations.
- Violence as content. Kathy Griffin’s photo holding a severed, bloody head of President Trump was beyond the pale. Severed, bloody body parts were funny in the black knight scene from “Monty Python And The Holy Grail.” A fictional character and ridiculous premise is safer than a real-life sitting President with a polarizing personality.
- Racism. Bill Maher made a poor decision to use the N word in an off-the-cuff joke, and that word has been off-limits for some time. So has “yellow,” as Australian personality Red Symonds learned recently while interviewing an Asian woman. Anything based on negative group generalizations is a bad idea. How sensitive are things today? Reporter Katie McHugh was fired recently for tweeting hate about Muslims… from the alt-right friendly/Muslim-unfriendly website Breitbart!
- Falsehoods and lies. Sean Hannity began losing sponsors when he pushed a false conspiracy theory about a murdered Democratic employee. Alex Jones, whose radio show is known for fantastical conspiracy theories (he’s the guy who claimed the Sandy Hook massacre never happened), was sued and had to apologize for lies he broadcast about Chobani Yogurt. It happens in the mainstream media too. Remember Brian Williams, banished from NBC to MSNBC for “miss-remembering” being in a helicopter that was shot down? And remember Dan Rather, disgraced for not fact-checking a George W. Bush story for the CBS Evening News.
- Threats and abuse. CBS Philadelphia reporter Colleen Campbell went viral recently with her tirade and physical assaults against police officers on the street. Troi Torain, aka “Star” was fired from WWPR New York after threatening the child of DJ Envy at Hot 97. That was 2006. He has not been back on AM/FM radio since.
- Sexual-harassment and assault: Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Gian Gomeshi at the CBC. Everyone should keep their hands and any gender specific commentary to themselves.
- Drugs and alcohol. We broadcasting folk get a little more leeway than your average accountant, but far too many act as the workplace is the Burning Man festival. Your talent cannot shine if you are high. If you are at a work or client party, aspire to be the most sensible person there.
- Being not coach-able. It is not “your” show. The show belongs equally to cohosts, producers, news directors, program directors, music directors, promotion directors, website managers, social media directors, market managers, vice presidents, presidents and (a tiny bit) to your talent coach. There are many tragic stories of high-profile personalities who lost it all because they wouldn’t listen to good advice.