Everytime I go on a reporting internship, I look to the vets of the newsroom to know how I should carry myself.
And I look to the situations I witness to know how certain things should be handled.
And the situation at The Tallahassee Democrat involving political reporter and columnist Bill Cotterell is no different.
When I first read about the incident – where he allegedly criticized Arab nations for failure to adjust to Israel’s existence in his response to a Muslim reader’s response to a column he had written – I was shocked. I knew somewhere in the article I’d be reading of his termination or his forced resignation.
But it never came.
Instead, he received a week off without pay for realizing he hit the send button before he thought about what he’d said. The situation is like a mother sending her child to the corner to stand and think about why he pushed another sibling down the stairs.
It doesn’t get the message across.
Last summer, Rosemary Armao, then the managing editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, resigned after e-mailing a reader and sharing her opinion of Katherine Harris.
Her boss, like Cotterell’s, agreed that what was seen as an off-kilter remark, just like Cotterell’s, reflected poorly on the credibility of the newspaper.
And in October, at The Famuan, columnist J. Danielle Daniels, known for her opinions that people love to disagree with, was shown the door for allegedly responding poorly to an e-mail sent to her by a reader.
I’ve received bad comments before, but I’ve been told never to face off with a reader about anything. As a professor of mine put it, “They’re rebutting something you’ve written, and you can’t rebut a rebuttal.”
Bill Cotterell’s termination would have told the Democrat’s audience that retaliation against an angry reader would not be accepted.
But maybe some journalist will read about this and when the day comes that he or she receives that e-mail cursing them for a piece of work they’ve done, they will do what is necessary and proper in the situation.
Marlon A.Walker, 21, is a senior newspaper journalism student from Detroit. He is The Famuan’s news editor. He can be reached at MarlonAWalker@aol.com.