By Bram Weinstein/@RealBramW
In the middle of the most intriguing political campaign year of my or possibly any lifetime, Melissa Harris-Perry decided to walk away from a giant platform, the weekend morning hours on news giant MSNBC.
I won’t spend time in this space discussing the reasons because the truth is no matter what you read about it, unless you are in that building, you don’t really know what’s happening. You can read the original story here if you want some more background.
In short, Harris-Perry had her show pre-empted numerous times for live events occurring on the campaign trail. As a political pundit, she was offended by the network’s decision to take her away from her audience. So when they asked her to return but to do a show that she described as lacking her editorial sensibilities, she felt she couldn’t just perform her job and read the news.
It’s clearly not that simple. Ratings are likely involved. Maybe there is a contractual issue. Maybe it was as simple as any Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders event is better served being shown live then have any pundit interrupting. A savvy politician (in some respects) herself, Harris-Perry used her bully pulpit to claim she was wronged when this might be a case of business as usual: Host’s ego won’t accept reality. This always has been and always will be a business. Big audience, big ad rates = stability and options. The opposite means change.
I want to reiterate that I don’t know what happened here and would go on to say that anyone reporting on it doesn’t know either, not until the executives at MSNBC publicly state why that show had been altered prompting the standoff. Maybe the writing was on the wall and Harris-Perry decided to pull this publicity stunt to help ramp up interest in her as the campaign season heats up. Or maybe, she just walked because she sincerely felt that if she couldn’t do HER show, she wouldn’t do any show.
I understand the feeling of wanting change, in fact it was less then a year ago that I left ESPN over essentially creative differences, i.e. I wanted a little more creative freedom. The circumstances were vastly different from the situation at MSNBC at least as it reads. I wasn’t on a show that was editorially altered and told to essentially play a different role. And largely, my relationship with executives was solid and productive. So the comparison is not apples to apples. But what Harris-Perry and I share is the feeling that sometimes you have to be true to yourself before you can truly commit to your employer.
This is a tricky conversation because like any job, there are going to be facets that you either don’t enjoy or in some cases, don’t agree with. The question is how much you are willing to deal with to perform your duties and in the case of broadcasting, feel like you are happy with the message you are presenting.
Should you be fortunate enough to reach spaces like I did at Sportscenter or Harris-Perry did with a show in her name at MSNBC, the stakes get higher. Taking a stand has ramifications that must be weighed. Harris-Perry, by all accounts did not have a highly rated program meaning there likely is not a lot of outside executives who will view this as a reason to make sure they acquire her. So, is she better off working through her contract and keeping her options open to find middle ground at MSNBC? Again, we don’t know. The same could have been said for my decision. Could I have just accepted the roles designated and continued to productively go about trying to find more creative outlets? In both cases, the answer is maybe.
When entering the field you are going to have little to no say over what kinds of assignments you will receive. Weather anchor was part of the job description of my first position in a small market in Hastings, Nebraska. Saying I was unqualified for this would be a severe understatement. But I didn’t question the role. I tried my best. My other job included general reporter which was far from my goal of covering sports exclusively. This combination could have led to a combustion but I saw the light at the end of the broadcasting tunnel.
By jobs 2 and 3, you start to have desires to get away from what the station or network executives see for you. It’s easy to get pigeonholed into positions because of necessity or because you are doing the job admirably. Finding that balance between what inspires you in this business and what is just part of the job is one of the trickiest and least discussed aspects of this business. What you envision doing is unlikely from what you will be doing and because the demand for positions overwhelms need, taking a stand becomes a dangerous game.
So when do you do it? There are obvious issues that don’t need explanation like workplace harassment or safety issues. But what if the issue is ideological about what role you want to have versus what role you do have? This, I would firmly submit is situational. My best advice, based on experience is beware of walking out. Stop and think long and hard about what taking the stand means. Do you have another employer waiting in the wings? More importantly, are you sure that other employer will give you the roles or platform to do what it is you want to do?
For Harris-Perry, the cynic in me sees her move as a publicity stunt to generate interest in her from other employers knowing her time at MSNBC was short. That’s just my gut feeling. As for me, the next chapter is being written, stay tuned.
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