As I alluded to in my GoFundMe campaign last month, I lost my job earlier this year. I also said it was a long story. Here is that story. I was fired by [WYPR General Manager] Tony Brandon in March for violating WYPR’s social media policy. How was this done? Remember that audio of myself and City Council President Spokesman Lester Davis of us going back and forth I posted over his assertion that WYPR was a second-rate radio station for taking sponsored content; a fact well documented by CityPaper. This has been romanticized by Mr. Brandon as “programming with community experts.” I was let go for that because there was an objection to me posting the audio to my soundcloud. And someone expressed to Mr. Brandon that it made SRB’s argument credible.
To his credit, Lester did apologize for his part of the exchange. I thought nothing of it because we both were acting in our respective roles. And I accepted his apology. Lester was looking out for the person he represents. Myself, I’m a reporter who doesn’t shy away from standing up for transparency and journalism. But here is the irony in this, Lester Davis had a point in calling out what is one of the most unethical things to do in public radio; essentially sell programming time during two of the most listened to radio programs in the country. These programs are not produced by WYPR. So in essence, I went down for defending the station against the indefensible.
This is not the first time that someone at Baltimore City Hall called out the station for its open secret. When Howard Libit was SRB’s spokesman, he gave us a hard time because Tom Pelton not only does an environmental program, but he’s a spokesman for an environmental advocacy group. He also had a WYPR email address. And when Howard came to me and told me that he knew I was a reporter, I had to say “I know, I understand and I get it.”
But my firing was just the culmination of what Mr. Brandon wanted. He had an issue with me voting yes to when the actual programming staff of the station tried to unionize. After we lost, and we had a programming meeting where the language to the paid programming was announced, I asked why did these programs have to use our call letters; they had nothing to do with us. That’s how I learned that Mr. Brandon calls these paid shows “programming with community experts.” Because he called me into the office after that meeting after I asked a question.
I also had to put up with the guy who runs a website who is one of the most condescending, disrespectful people I’ve had the displeasure of working with. And because we got into a screaming match, I was written up for it because he’s a management favorite. That happened a couple of weeks before SRB decided to lie about why she didn’t want to see me for the rest of her term.
While all of that happened, Mr. Brandon made his own meeting with Anthony McCarthy where Anthony McCarthy told Mr. Brandon that I called SRB a bitch and that I had problems with Adrienne Barnes with the Transportation Department. Who didn’t have problems with Adrienne Barnes with the Transportation Department? She came out and incited a situation that didn’t have to be incited with the parking tickets I was getting for having a valid permit; money that I will never see again because Kevin Harris didn’t do his job. I have the same parking permit that the police department said was still valid despite being long expired. And I never called SRB a bitch or a c*** as Anthony McCarthy tried to tell me I did this time last year. Ever.
At that point Mr. Brandon wanted to put me in anger management because he “wanted something on the wall that said I can control my anger.” Keep in mind, this is coming from a guy who lost his cool in trying to appeal to the programming staff who wants to unionize. I remember sitting next to him in that meeting saying “you do not want to make me angry.” To appease him, I took the course. Knowing it was going to be a quick path for him to fire me.
I don’t have an anger problem. I might be guilty of a lot of things like making off-color remarks. But then again, who hasn’t made an off-color remark in a newsroom. Not being as diplomatic as possible, yes, I own that one but I’m not as bad as I used to be believe it or not. Being a dogged reporter, well that one is obvious. It’s also obvious that I’m an outspoken guy. But being outspoken does not mean I’m an angry guy. It means that I have conviction in what I believe and what I say.
My problem was the culture at WYPR being fostered by Mr. Brandon. I’m sorry, but I tend to carry some measure of self-respect. When you have a producer who is exerting more authority over what gets on the air than the News Director, that’s a problem for me. He’s a producer, not a manager; let alone news director. When you have a program director that talks over you while you are making a point in a meeting. Then you go to that program director asking what the deal was and he says he doesn’t want to be in meetings and don’t take his act personally. I’m sorry, that’s a problem for me. When you have a web guy who literally tells you that he doesn’t care what you think, that’s a problem for me.
For all the conversations I was pulled into about being respectful and professional, it rings hollow when the people who are in management are amazingly disrespectful. I expressed my grievances before I was written up, but nothing was done about it…at all. It was ignored. Why? Because people want to pretend that everything is OK when it’s not. When you have ethical lapses taking place and managers that do more hiding than problem solving, everything is NOT running OK.
I’m also not OK with Mr. Brandon asking my boss to ask me turn in my state-issued press credential and then called Anthony McCarthy at City Hall to do his dirty work. I know the regulations behind those state-issued badges because I helped revised them. And I revised my badge with my new affiliation as soon as I could. On top of that, those badges are $50. No way am I going to entrust something with money attached to someone that didn’t have my best interest at heart.
I know some people will have a problem with this post. Some people will think this is an angry post from a bitter, disgruntled employee. But I’m not bitter or disgruntled. Even though I have every reason to be I’m not. I started looking for a job after the SRB incident when it was clear to me that the management at WYPR and I no longer saw eye to eye.
I’m sharing this because there are some lessons to be learned. The one thing I’ve found in common this year is that other people of color who raise an issue or are outspoken are often viewed as combative, argumentative and “threatening” to borrow a word. Some of us just want to be treated with the respect and professionalism that our resumes call for and for a healthy work environment with the tools necessary to do our jobs.