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Robin Huebner, Published October 04 2012

HUEBNER: Gutsy on-air move a learning moment for all

The headline immediately caught my eye: “La Crosse TV anchor fires back on air about weight complaint.”

Clicking on the story’s accompanying video, I saw 37-year-old Jennifer Livingston speaking articulately and passionately about how a viewer’s email to her had crossed the line between feedback and bullying.

The male viewer told the veteran morning anchor on WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., that she couldn’t possibly be a good role model for young people, girls in particular, because she is overweight.

In his words, “… your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years.”

The on-air editorial response from the married mother of three young girls was shared widely on Facebook and attracted national media attention. The gutsy move apparently pushed a lot of people’s buttons, on varying levels.

Her anti-bullying message was spot-on and timely. But it also struck a chord with me on a professional level.

In my 26 years on the air, I’ve certainly received my share of viewer comments. Most have been civil and constructive, but a few have been rude or downright cruel.

One person suggested I have a mole removed from my face to make me look younger. He even told me where I should go to have it done.

Another viewer didn’t like the monochromatic look of my red shirt under a red jacket. She suggested I could be fired for making that clothing choice.

While some male broadcasters seem to escape comments about their appearance, virtually every one of my female counterparts has received an unkind comment about her clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, makeup or weight. Some have even been trashed in very personal ways in online message boards.

It seems some people feel it’s perfectly OK to lob critical comments at others they don’t even know, with no regard whatsoever for their feelings.

I talked with former TV news reporter/anchor and radio personality Tracy Briggs about what she experienced. She said a viewer once told her she hated her voice.

“I’m always flabbergasted when people actually take time out of their day to write something so mean,” Briggs said.

But another viewer comment had a completely different reaction and result. Briggs talked about the retired English teacher who wrote to say she very much enjoyed Tracy’s work as a broadcaster, but occasionally took issue with her grammar.

“She actually wanted to help make me better. She didn’t personally attack me,” Briggs said.

Briggs contacted the woman and the two met for coffee, ultimately forming a friendship over the experience. It’s interesting how the tone of one’s feedback or criticism can dictate the outcome.

The Wisconsin TV anchor could have dished it right back at her critiquing viewer in a demeaning way. Instead, she took the high road and turned it into a great teaching moment for herself and so many others.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Robin Huebner at (701) 451-5607