How to use your position and not get used in return

Guest Post
Jenn Bates has been the morning anchor at KWCH since November 2014 and was a sports anchor/reporter for 8.5 years in Wichita and Tri-Cities, WA before that.  Jenn studied telecommunications-news at the University of Florida from 2002-2006.  

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about our position as anchors and reporters is the impact of what we say and do, no matter your market size.  Our voices have only gotten louder and more impactful with the rise in social media.  We are all on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and for some of the more unfortunate of us…YouTube.

The great part about the ability to put our voice on so many platforms is we truly can create change.  We can inspire people.  We can help charities!  But the big question is…should we?
That my friends is a very fine line.
My old GM advised us to not post about any charity, at all.  That means no sharing of Go Fund Me accounts, no sharing of pleas for help for raising money for cancer for kids or helping someone find a lost dog, no promoting any charity at all etc.  Does that sound cruel?  Does it sound like it lacks the empathy that we as newscasters truly need to have?  Trust me, it’s less cruel to limit that activity than it is to post it ad nauseam. There are some exceptions but just hear me out.
The reason why you really need to avoid posting things like that is pretty soon, you will become the go-to media person for posting that stuff.  Then you’ll get the ‘well you shared that person’s go fund me, why won’t you share mine?  Do you just not like _____ people?’  Yes, people go there.  The easiest way to avoid anything like that is just to not post anything.  The last thing you want is to cloud people’s perception of your stance on any issue.
Now, there are a few exceptions like I mentioned.  One thing we NEED to do as broadcasters is use our voice for good.  It is GREAT to be involved in charity work in your community. Not only does it strengthen your bond with the people you cover it also gives you many reliable sources for information.  The biggest thing for me when I really started getting involved in charity work was fulfillment.  For a long time I really struggled with what I was actually doing with my job to be a good member of society.  Sure I read sports highlights and read the news to keep people informed and entertained but what was I actually DOING with my life and my powerful voice?
A few years ago we had a tragedy in our newsroom.  A beloved, long-time anchor had her breast cancer return.  Anyone who is familiar with breast cancer knows how nasty it is when it comes back.  Kim worked until the tumors got into her brain and started affecting her speech.  This woman was tireless even on chemo.  She anchored when her hair was falling out, when she had zero energy, when she was essentially dying.  She was one of the best women I ever knew.  When she died I felt a hole inside me.  She had helped me when my own mother had gone through breast cancer a few years before.  She calmed me down, helped me with the process.  When Kim died I needed to do something so I looked up the charity she had supported, Victory in the Valley.
I volunteer once a week at the cancer center and a year in to volunteering I was honored to be chosen to serve on the board of directors for the charity.  Here’s where things get sticky.
I know that a big reason why I was chosen to be on the board is because of my ‘status’ as a news anchor.  And also because our station became a sponsor of the Komen Race and stopped sponsoring the Victory race.  I am not blind. I know that they wanted me to use my position to lobby support for the charity.  The reason why I did not have a problem doing it is because they help people with ALL cancers which is personal for me and Victory is 100% LOCAL.  Every single dollar raised stays in Kansas, the group was formed in Wichita in the 80’s and very few people are on salary, like 3.  And I know what they’re paid, it’s not much.  Our station now sponsors the Victory Race AND the Komen Race.  I am the Emcee for both because of my unfortunate personal connection with breast cancer.
I have been a volunteer at the cancer center, once a week, for nearly 4 years now.  It had resonated in the community quite a bit.  People know me from the cancer center sometimes before they recognize me from the news.  That means the world to me that you can impact someone’s life so greatly just by talking to them, laughing with them during a really hard time in their lives.
People who know me well also know I’m a huge sucker for animals.  In fact just the other day I adopted a dog from the Humane Society!  So not long after I started working with Victory in the Valley I thought you know, I have time, I’ll work for a couple of hours in the morning once a week at a local humane society.  What a vastly difference experience in the charity world.
I want to make sure I point out that this does NOT happen everywhere, this is an isolated experience.  I loved working with the animals and felt like I was making a difference.  For a while that was all that I was expected to do, exactly what I signed up for, making treats for animals and walking dogs and playing with them.  Not long into my volunteering things changed.  One of the marketing guys in the department started asking me if I could help him with a sports museum he worked with.  He started asking me for contact numbers for prominent sports figures in our area, contact numbers I worked hard to get and was not even comfortable giving to other people in our newsroom unless cleared by the person themselves.  I was being put in a very awkward position and eventually quit volunteering there because I didn’t like what he was doing.
Be prepared for people to do things like that to you.  Because of your position you really have to draw a line between what you want to do to help and what you will not accept being asked.
When I switched from being a sports anchor/reporter to being the morning news anchor my schedule changed drastically in more ways than just having to wake up at 2 AM for work.  All of a sudden I became the station’s go-to for hosting events.  For a long stretch I was hosting an event every single weekend and with that comes the non-stop requests for social media pushes and hey can you help us promote it, etc.  What I quickly realized is that the more events I hosted the more diluted my effect became.  I didn’t want to make my voice less impactful by using it to promote everyone.  Eventually, having me host an event won’t be ‘oh man, we got Jenn Bates here!’ rather it will be, ‘yeah Jenn hosts everything, not surprised she’s here,’ or maybe even worse ‘I don’t think she really cares about any of this, she just does it to make herself look good.’
Thankfully I have a really awesome marketing and promotions department at my station.  If ever there is an event that I don’t want to do I just ask them to help me out and they take care of it.  I also created a standard that I REFUSE to do any event where I’m asked to solicit money for a group.  Nope, won’t do that at all.  I’m not comfortable with it.
My general rule these days is if the event has to do with a charity where I am directly involved in the process it will ALWAYS take precedence.  I am on the board of two charities and they are what I focus on and they are the ones I will promote online.  People know my involvement and I am very transparent about it.  If there is an event that I really love and feel is impactful to a large number of people then I will promote it, especially if I am in a picture in the ads for it.  If you look at my facebook page you’ll see pictures of me with a young man in a wheelchair.  I am absolutely in awe of that charity, Heartspring, helping kids with disabilities, and the young man’s story moved me so much that I felt it was ok to post it.
Again, my general rules are:
1) Don’t solicit money, this includes not sharing things on social media like Go Fund Me accounts, lost animal posts or involving yourself in a charity event where you need to ask people for donations personally.
2) Be transparent with your involvement in a charity if you work directly with them.
3) Limit your involvement in hosting events as much as possible so you do not dilute the power of your voice
4) If you feel like you’re being used for something other than your time and volunteer effort, stop working with that charity.  You should never be put in that position.
5) Pick something meaningful to you.  It will make it so much more fulfilling and worthwhile for you.  It can help give a purpose to our job beyond just telling people what’s happening in the day.
More posts from Jenn:

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