Firing Of Helbert Damages University's Reputation - And Response (2)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The members of United Campus Workers express deep disappointment in the administrators of University of Tennessee—Chattanooga’s leadership regarding the recent firing of Jacqui Helbert for her coverage of a conversation between Senator Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, and students from Cleveland High School. This firing happened at the urging of Senator Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, a known opponent of LGBTQIA inclusion on campus who spearheaded the defunding of UT-Knoxville’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. George Heddleston, senior associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications for UTC inappropriately took the authority over the situation from WUTC’s management in making this decision.

According to NPR:  "Taking the decisions about enforcing ethics out of [WUTC's] hands did more to undermine the station's credibility than the original infraction," the NPR statement reads. "This chain of events underscores why it is critical that newsrooms such as that at WUTC not be subject to pressure from the institutions that hold their licenses, the sponsors who give them financial support or the politicians who sometimes don't like the stories they hear or read." 

The members of United Campus Workers support the actions of UTC Student Activists for Equality, who protested the firing on March 28. We find Heddleston’s argument that the University intervened because "the station is part of UTC's Marketing and Communications division” troubling, in that it suggests that he feels that gives the University the authority to dictate the operation of the station in ways that run counter to the goals of a free press. 

The legislative overreach is reflective of a wider legislative movement to take independence away from the University of Tennessee system and other public institutions. Over the last two years we have seen broader attacks on diversity-related programs, culminating in defunding UTK’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2016, the introduction of guns on campus, and the gubernatorial push for complete outsourcing of all facilities services. These attacks deeply impact all workers.

United Campus Workers is committed to fighting for workers’ rights and university independence. We call on campus administrative leadership to pledge their support for the journalistic mission of WUTC and to issue a statement assuring the university and community that there will be no further interference in that mission at the behest of elected officials. This won’t undo the damage that has been done to the station’s credibility by their actions, but it’s a start toward repairing its reputation. Strong administrative leadership in support of all workers and the rights of the university is a must if we hope to thwart any future intrusions that cause great harm.

Melanie Barron
United Campus Workers 

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I would dare to say that biased liberal media funded with public tax dollars has the lesser of reputation points, when compared to even Congress.  Polling supports that finding. 

Really,  WUTC is a serious local news source? WUTC could discontinue operations and no one would notice. Most students listen to online and satellite radio. I am a graduate of UTC, and I never listened to WUTC’s programming, because it was riddled with bias then. 

The public funds allocated for WUTC should be moved to academic programs for ethics in journalism that is currently lacking at WUTC.   

I would encourage the state legislative delegation to discontinue funding for the politically biased WUTC, until the half million or so is spent for academic rather than political pursuits with publicly funded reporters. It is completely inappropriate for tax dollars to fund any news source in my view. 

Citing NPR as a source does not include the fact that journalism ethics are at the lowest point in history. I understand that this reporter failed to identify herself as a journalist for WUTC when collecting information from elected officials. 

As a result, UTC would have better utilization of the funding in the academic programs with emphasis on ethics in journalism that seems to be absent with so many young reporters.  Political bias and following truth in reporting is grossly absent, and that has led the public to distrust media to the point that Congress has a higher approval rating, than media. That speaks volumes to the state of media and ethics in journalism. 

I wonder if this particular reporter had adequate education to be aware of ethics in journalism. She may have missed that class.  

Nothing personal against the reporter, but your union it backwards. The public has mass distrust in biased media, not UTC. 

April Eidson 

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The firing of Jacqui Helbert from WUTC was inexcusable. Reporters shouldn't be punished for doing their jobs, especially at the request of elected officials attempting to circumvent the first amendment. 

Helbert's supposed "crime", failing to introduce herself as a reporter, is petty for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that during the meeting in question, she was wearing recording equipment and holding a microphone.  

The method of how the information was obtained should be considered irrelevant. The only reason anyone has a problem with "ethics" here is because they disagree with the content of the article.  

The article itself is not speculative, opinionated, or political. It was reporting an occurrence as it was observed, and using the actual words of the participants involved. In other words, it was journalism, something most people addicted to the 24 hour news cycle might not recognize. 

The topic of the article, LGBT bathroom legislation, is the source of the anger. Outrage over the method used to obtain the information is misplaced. If Ms. Helbert had "caught" an elected official saying something that reflected poorly on the Obama administration, you'd be showering her with praise. 

If it's your choice to be a bigot and to want the right to privacy and dignity to be stripped from LGBT youth, at least be straightforward about it, and leave Ms. Helbert alone to do her job. 

Ray Ingraham

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