Beyond the Comments Section: A Lesson on Taking a Story into Your Own Hands

By Zameena Mejia

FacebookHow would you feel if you found out you were fired from your job through a Facebook post? I spoke to one person who recently faced this from her summer job before law school and what followed raised a lot of questions.

For a few days, the tiny movie theater from my small college town was at the center of controversy when it fired and publicly shamed five employees via Facebook.

The drama unfolded online while I was on break at my internship a few weeks ago. I continued working and periodically took screenshots of the back-and-forth conversation between those defending the theater, the employees or their simple freedom of speech to later review during my commute home. In less than five hours, the post garnered upwards of 360 likes, 180 shares and 280 comments.

I spoke with one of the fired employees—an old mutual friend—who shared with me her side of the story but could not share the identities of the other four. That evening, I Facebook-messaged the theater for further comment but got no response (I did get a “seen” stamp). I called the town’s fire department as a student journalist for background information on the incident, got in touch with one of the first-responders but didn’t get the follow-up call he had promised.

It took some nerve on my part to reach out to sources for a story anchored over 90 miles away, and as disheartening as it was to be ignored, I refused to let my guard down. I pitched the story to a couple of alternative news sites and tagged a few local newspapers on Facebook to cover the story—but still no response. Despite not having all the facts, the beginning of the story was right in front of me; I used my personal website as a platform to host the comments of the well-read (and the ridiculous)—see for yourself. My page received over 500 views and the story received over 30 reblogs/notes on Tumblr, which demonstrated the community’s interest in the issue and how they could use my site as a way to form their own opinions.

Separating my own opinion from the content was difficult as well but I let the comments speak for themselves. The theater degraded a group of young people, ruled them unworthy of minimum wage, and elevated its ego with the negative attention it received. It also deleted its initial controversial post and comments from the public (a big PR no-no).

Being proactive is what young folks are most known for—we don’t fear letting our voices be heard and despite my reservations at first, I have no fear in the slice of reporting I managed to accomplish. At no point did I nor do I intend to defame the theater, rather I sought to bring awareness on a local business’ practices that normally wouldn’t fly with the college crowd if they were made aware of said practices.

We also speak up, as did many people on the Facebook thread, we give the online reviews an establishment deserves, we push back without the fear of ageism, elitism or other forms of petty discrimination. Having just jumped into journalism grad school, I’m learning a lot about maintaining integrity, respect and equality and I believe that I haven’t done the story the justice it deserves. I may not have reported the full story, but I set the starting line for peers to pose questions for themselves and continue the reporting where I left off.

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