By Edward Esposito, RTDNF Secretary-Treasurer
By now you've seen the video; maybe you've already heard now-former KFYR-TV Bismarck, North Dakota anchor A.J. Clemente was released from the station after a legendary slip or a classic unscheduled utterance sank his inaugural performance.
Note to A.J.: don't worry, it'll pass.
You'll always be "that guy" who lost his first anchor gig on the first day he anchored by muttering two very bad words right off the bat. You'll always be the guy who lost his job over it. You don't have to be the guy who sinks his career over it.
Just about everyone in the live broadcast business has had a moment they wish they could recapture. Some of us -- myself included -- paid a price for including profanity.
I was working at Bluefield, West Virginia at the then-combo of WHIS-TV/AM/FM when an offhand remark through the cue channel using the newsbooth mic somehow wound up bleeding into the West Virginia University-Virginia Tech game. Most people weren't prepared to hear another voice joining Jack Fleming and Woody O'Hara in the booth, much less one using one of George Carlin's seven words.
That was Saturday. On Monday, I was toast. I still recall the discomfort General Manager John Shott had in firing me; he honestly regretted having to do so but it was a no-brainer. Just as it was a no-brainer for KFYR-TV General Manager Dick Heidt to do the same thing. Only difference: these days the FCC has the axe waiting overhead for stations running afoul of their profanity regulations, and the axe swings up to $375,000.
Here's the takeaway, A.J.: don't laugh it off, even with friends trying to make you feel better. You made a mistake, one others have made in the past. One others will make in the future. Yours was very public. Theirs may not be. You paid the price with your job but you don't have to pay the price with your career.
You are in journalism and television because it is a calling. It'll be harder finding your next opportunity, but somewhere there's a television GM and news director (or a radio manager, or a web manager) willing to bet that which didn't kill you will make you stronger. You won't take such guidance as "always treat a mic as live" lightly anymore. You will have a more serious understanding of this business. You've also been seasoned in a way few are when it comes to personal challenges. Use that to improve your reporting and your anchoring. It will give you a unique perspective.
In my market alone, there have been naked anchors and other assorted shenanigans once thought to be career-killers. The good news is there will be managers willing to give you a second chance because it's human nature to appreciate those who seek redemption and are willing to get back up and fight for what they believe in.
Good luck. And don't forget, radio hires too. Along with websites and newspapers and magazines.
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