Shooting the messenger: Facebook post leads to community backlash against HS newspaper columnist

It's #TalkBackTuesday

By Shelby Zeigler

I am an opinion columnist for my high school newspaper, Uncaged News. I have always loved the excitement of writing an opinionated column that starts a civic discourse among the members of my community and it’s become something I’m quite well known for in our small town.

When my journalism advisor came to me telling me that Brandon Stanton, author of Humans of New York, was in Michigan interviewing people in a town just like Stockbridge, she inspired me. I immediately typed up a post in which I posted to the HONY Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Screen grab of Zeigler's Facebook Post.

Brandon Stanton decided to take a trip to the small town of Macomb, MI because of the way they voted in the 2016 presidential election. The majority of the votes cast in this town swayed towards Trump and Stanton came to simply hear what the people were like. Me, wanting to create an incredible opportunity for my school, jumped at the chance to have Stanton visit our school to interview the students.

The post said something along the lines of, our school and town voted the same way as the town he was visiting. I stated that the people in our town aren’t exposed to enough diversity and culture to physically see the ways that Trump’s stances on multiple topics affects those he is talking about.

After multiple friends and family shared the post, the whole town was soon harassing me for what I said. Except, they were missing the whole point of the post. What they didn’t understand was that my sole purpose in it was to get Stanton’s attention, not to offend anyone in the community.

Screen grab of comments on Zeigler's Facebook post

Instead of looking past their political views to help a greater cause, they decided to remain close-minded and only hear what they wanted to hear. I was told that people like me are the reason God created the backhand. I was belittled and told that I needed to learn to think for myself instead of blindly following the “left liberal” views, and our newspaper was mocked.

People questioned my role as a columnist, confusing the title as someone that should remain unbiased, when in all actuality, the point of an opinion column is to state an opinion in a professional manner, with facts to back it up.

screen grab of further comments on Zeigler's Facebook post.

Despite the amount of negative comments and backlash I was faced with, it was a learning experience. And if anyone can handle a little harassment, it’s me. I’m used to people disagreeing with my columns but never would I have thought that members of the community would go so far as belittling me and threatening me simply because they can’t see the bigger picture. Going through adversity like so is teaching me how to deal with people in the most professional way possible.

Advice I would give to teenage girls being faced with similar problems as a journalist would be: don’t let it hold you back. There will always be people that disagree with you and will fight you, but don’t let their words make you silent. I think that as long as what you are doing is being handled maturely and journalistically, nothing should hold you back from becoming the strong-minded, strong-willed, and just plain strong woman you are becoming.