What I’m about to confess happened when I was starting out as a cub reporter. Even now, nearly eight years later, it’s hard to write about what I did, what I said. I should probably just pretend it never happened. But maybe it’ll serve as a cautionary tale to other cub journos.
I’ve sworn on television before. I dropped the F-bomb. Three times. In one sentence. On live television. Breakfast television. With children watching.
A proud career moment this definitely was not.
I didn’t even realise I was on air at the time. I was covering a flash flood that had hit the Gold Coast, and had just finished a live cross to the Today show. I’d just turned 23, was new to the show and live tv, and this had been a difficult cross. My earpiece had terrible feedback and I could hear myself on three second delay. Very off putting. I’d also been awake for 24 hours. I was tired and cranky.
After struggling through four and a half excruciating minutes of live tv, the sound director told me over a crackling earpiece that I was ‘clear’.
But my real misery was yet to come.
I wandered over to our tech, who was operating the link truck. We’d known each other for years and had a good, very blokey, rapport. He smiled grimly, as I started whining, exasperated…
‘Oh mate, we’ve gotta sort this f*@king earpiece out. I can’t f*@king hear myself f*@king think’.
He nodded sympathetically. He’d dropped a few choice swear words himself before the live cross. It’d been a stressful morning for everyone.
My phone suddenly rang. It was my Chief of Staff. ‘You’re in big trouble, young lady.’. Was I ever. Every word I said had gone to air.
I was mortified.
Viewers took to the Internet to unleash their viciousness. ‘That foul-mouth should publicly apologise for her expletive-ridden rant! What a waste of oxygen! Sack her!’
Talkback radio raged with indignant callers, calling for me to be sacked too. ‘Who does this girl think she is?? Does she know how many people would kill for her job??’
Um yeah, actually. I did. This was my dream job. A national reporting role on the Today show! I’d slogged it out at regional tv stations for years, working double shifts, public holidays and, in some cases, without pay. This was my big tv break. And I blew it. Big time. With a capital F.
I got an official warning from my boss. And a well-deserved dressing down from the show’s hosts. I’d embarrassed myself, my colleagues and a show I loved working for. I was sure my tv journalism career was over even before it really started. My credibility was suddenly a four-letter word.
Thankfully, my career did survive my very public, potty-mouthed faux pas. And I learned a few very important lessons along the way.
Firstly, if you’re going to be a Journo – especially in tv – you’ve gotta toughen up. When you make mistakes or embarrass yourself at work, there are usually a couple of hundred thousand people watching. And some of those people will have very strong, not-so-nice opinions of you. And keyboards. And high-speed Internet connection.
That said, unlike say brain surgeons, when reporters do make mistakes no-one dies. And you know what, we’re not robots. We’re human.
It is, however, important to develop your integrity by owning your mistakes. I wrote a long letter of apology to the show. It took many months of hard work to eventually win back the respect of my colleagues. I can almost laugh about it now… Almost.
Oh, and lastly, the most important thing I learned? Journalism students, write this down: Never, EVER swear with a microphone on.
Sarah Harris has been a journalist for more than a decade. She currently works as a reporter for the Nine Network and can be found on National Nine News. You can follow her on Twitter here.
What was the worst mistake you ever made at work?