Winston-Salem Journal reporter Travis Fain was sent a warning letter by the local board of education after he violated its civility policy by using the word “dick” after an unpleasant exchange with a board member. (“I’ve always had a smart mouth, and my filter just shut down that afternoon,” he tells Romenesko readers in an email below.)
The Journal explains what happened:
Fain asked school board member Buddy Collins on Tuesday for comment on his proposed changes to the board’s policy on whether students can opt out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Collins told Fain he does not comment to the Journal, and when Fain asked why, he repeated that he doesn’t talk to the Journal and left the room. Fain said to himself, but within hearing distance of several board members and staff, “Why are you such a d—? How’s that for a question?”
Fain later apologized for that.
He tells Romenesko readers:
Thirteen years busting it as a reporter and now this, at least for a while, is what some people know me for. There’s a lesson in that for anyone, especially these days, when your dumb moments live on through Google and the Internet.
It’s also something to remember as you deal with sources – a way to understand things from their end. Like it or not, we amplify things some things more than others.
I’ve no one to blame but myself in this matter. I’ve apologized to Mr. Collins, to those who heard the comment, to the board chairman and to my editors. My wife had twins a month ago. We don’t get much sleep, I’ve always had a smart mouth, and my filter just shut down that afternoon. It only takes a second.
I was wrong, I’m sorry and I’m embarrassed. There’s no reason to call people names. It cheapens discourse, and I’ve given people who distrust me, my paper or “the media” something to point to as an indication of bias.
And it’s going to be on Romenesko, where no doubt many of the people I’ve worked with over the years and scores of potential future editors will see it. That is the kind of control you cede when you do something stupid.
I doubt he’s the only reporter to do something like that. Share your story in the comments section. (And congratulations, Travis, on the birth of your twins.)