One lousy word

I can’t remember ever using the n-word in text or conversation with a newsmaker.  But more times than I can count, I’ve done what my colleague Valerie Hoff did earlier this month. Unfortunately, Valerie tiptoed across a line of acceptable language, and it cost her the job she’d had at WXIA for 18 years.


Valerie Hoff

Valerie was trying to make contact with a man who’d shot a newsworthy video that had gone viral.  The man had a Twitter handle, and Valerie private messaged him. It was a competitive situation — other news organizations were trying to do the same thing — and Valerie didn’t want to see it anywhere else before she had it.

The African American man had tweeted something about “news n—-z” trying to reach him.  Valerie, a white woman, tried to humorously use the same language in an effort to pitch an interview.  Instead of finding it funny, the man chose to re-tweet and further racialize her text.  Valerie resigned Friday.

Valerie is easy to underestimate: blonde, fit, well-dressed and disarming, it’s a facade concealing a tenacious competitor.  When I worked at WAGA, Valerie was the 11Alive field reporter I feared most. I still smart from the bruising she gave me on the “mansion madame” story in the mid aughts. When I competed with her on a story, I knew I had to be very thorough or I’d end up hearing about a story element she had that I lacked.

When I started work at WXIA in 2009, she was assigned to a franchise called “Ways to Save,” and was anchoring weekends. It sounds like a dream assignment for a reporter coasting toward retirement; yet she worked her tail off producing fresh consumer material that seemed to air seven days a week.  When that gig ended, as all such gigs seem to do, she re-engaged general assignment reporting with her old fervor.  Her stories were often weeks ahead of our competitors. She was a mainstay in the A-block of our newscasts.  And she did it while undergoing a public struggle with breast cancer.

Every reporter tries to find ways to get a potential newsmaker to play ball. If the newsmaker is a civilian new to our world, then the reporter wants to seem likable and trustworthy.  Your competitors are doing the same thing.

Valerie did that better than most of the rest of us.  Knowing her 18 years, I’m absolutely sure there’s not a racially insensitive bone in her body.  I know she regrets using the language in that particular pitch. It turns out quoting back somebody else’s use of a variation of the n-word is perilous territory.

I frequently attempt to use humor or empathy to pitch interviews with perfect strangers under such circumstances.  I also try to be mindful, especially in written messages, that such stuff can surface publicly.  Sometimes I hit “send” too quickly, because typically, time’s a-wastin’. There’s a deadline a few hours away, and there’s a competitor or three breathing down my neck.

So far, it’s never come back to haunt me.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

31 thoughts on “One lousy word

  1. Pingback: 04-30-2017 | Chamblee54

  2. Valeriehoff

    Thanks Doug! The public support has been overwhelming and I appreciate you taking the time to write this. I may have left a sandwich in the breakroom fridge, feel free to snag it!

  3. Tammi

    This is a great shame. She was someone I tuned in specifically to see on 11 Alive. Not many people there anymore that I like. After all she’s been through, this is just such a shame.

  4. bryanhendrix

    Just very unfortunate. That blogger could have given her the benefit of the doubt and accepted her quickly offered apology. But It’s obvious that Val is making the best of this and may be happier in the long run. Just hope people can see this for what it was- a human error but by no means a malicious one.

  5. Greg Williams

    There was nothing funny about Valeri’s use of the word and the fact that her twitter is currently littered with messages stating that the gentlemen that reported her is at fault here is evidence that she has not learned a thing from this besides “don’t let black people hear you use the n-word”.

    The n-word is used internally within a minority groups culture, when someone outside of that culture (especially someone who is a part of a legacy of that word’s originally usage as a form of inhumane abuse) uses the word, it is egregious and not at all the same.

    She seems like a great person and reporter and I hope she goes on to do more work but she deserves her resignation here so that hopefully a very deep lesson is taught to her and other people like her. Unless you’re black and know what it’s like to hear a white person use that word, you have no say here.

  6. S. Livingston

    Reverse racism… if the shoe was in the other foot… it would have turned out very differently. What a shame.

  7. Teresa

    It is really a sad state of mind that we live in today…we walk around on egg shells in fear of not politically correct. All the while it’s ok for some to use words that are offensive to some and not to others … Why can’t we grow up and cut the racial cord? Some language was used by an individual ..but when the same was used…the old back hairs bristle up and caused a wonderful person as Valerie to loose her job…and we know she is very passionate in what she does … Forgive and forget… Bring Valerie back…

    1. Greg Williams

      If you laughingly call your son or grandson a “doofus” that’s one thing but I’m sure you wouldn’t like a total stranger using that same word for your son or grandson. It’s not that difficult to avoid certain words. We all do it all the time and it’s a part of being an adult.

  8. Pingback: TV briefs: Samantha Bee & CNN, 11Alive; Doug Richards on Valerie Hoff, Todd and Grayson Chrisley, | Radio & TV Talk

  9. Russ Jamieson

    Doug… I’ve been busy and have missed reading your blog… I know the gig at WXIA keeps you busy, but this posting (and Rodney’s mention) brought me back. I’ll be a better follower in the future. I remember a long time ago the advice “never say anything on mic you don’t want heard”… and it’s the same on the social media front. (not that anyone needs advice from me) Sorry for Valerie

    1. Eric

      Example that comes to mind in the matter of journalists making regrettable mistakes… David Brinkley when he retired from ABC News after the 1996 election, and his infamous election night gaffe, and unflattering things he said about former President Bill Clinton, and saying the G.D. word (a swear word that many would find offensive, especially those that don’t like God’s name taken in vain) on live TV. Brinkley was a one of a kind journalist, from the NBC Huntley-Brinkley Report era to his 15-year run on ABC This Week… from the era of other legendary names, including Chet Huntley, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and so on.

      YouTube video of the incident:
      YouTube video of interview about the incident:

  10. Carlos Cunha

    Let’s call this situation for what it is: a greedy street hustler looking to scam money from an organization he rightly perceives as willing to kowtow at the alter of white guilt. He was fine with the messages until he identified the race of the sender. Suddenly, innocuous words transformed into a deep pocket of opportunity for financial enrichment. The guy is a scumbag.

    1. Greg Williams

      Carlos, imagine if you received a text from someone and you assumed it was a close family member like your cousin or brother. And in the text the word “wet**ck* was used jokingly. Then imagine that you found out that instead it was a stranger and on top of that a non-latino, minority stranger. Having compassion is not difficult to understand that a minority group is offended when they hear a word from someone from the very same social group that used the word oppressively . Calling the guy a scumbag is incredibly harsh and mean

      1. Carlos Cunha

        I’m triggered that you assume my ethnicity to be Latino. How dare you, sir? I may require use of a safe space with a well-upholstered fainting couch and a selection of fancy, decaffeinated, fair-trade coffees. Portagees may be the wetbacks of Europe, but the US government has not considered us part of brown-magic voting demographic for several decades.
        The short answer to your scenario is, “Don’t care.” If a case of hurt feelings is enough to ruin someone’s day, I’m curious how that person survives. Your premise is insulting and condescending in it’s assumption that a listener can be injured by mere words. Such frailty will be the end of our civilization and result in all of our enslavement, either to Islam or Leftists.
        My feelings don’t matter. Your feelings don’t matter. Nobody’s feelings matter. I give a pass to husbands and fathers caring about the feelings of their wives and daughters because we have to live with them, but outside of those few exceptions, concern for feelings should be limited.

        1. Greg Williams

          Well, I get it… you are made of steel. Good for you! But my question wasn’t whether or not your feelings would get hurt, my question was for you to imagine a scenario similar to the one that occurred but the tables were turned on your own ethnicity.

          I’m not sure what you do for a living– but in professional environments, feelings do matter to a certain degree and something as obvious as not using racial slurs when you’re working isn’t a gray area.. it’s par for the course.

          Also might I add that sensitivity to each other will NOT end our civilization. Slavery almost ended our civilization. Creating positive professional environments has only strengthened our civilization and made it easy for us to live together in one of the few countries that is a “melting pot” of cultures.

          1. Carlos Cunha

            Sorry. I wasn’t clear. In the situation you described, I would neither care nor take offense. I have better things to do than focus on life’s slights, whether real or perceived.
            Of course, employees should not go about spouting racial epithets in the workplace, if for no other reason than self-preservation. The race hustlers who make their careers manufacturing grievances need a steady stream of victims (both in the literal and sarcastic sense) to justify their existence.
            As to the last paragraph, all I can say is…

            1. Greg Williams

              Okay.. well I’m pretty sure that the reason we don’t use racial epithets is because it’s insensitive and hateful. Self-preservation definitely works in that, but self-preservation is only one level.. there is also the level of most people wanting to be good people. The average person doesn’t like being insensitive and hateful. Maybe you’re different and that’s a choice too……………………………………………

              Also, to say you wouldn’t take offense is incredibly disingenuous, unless you’re a sociopath.. people take offense to offenses.. you’re trying to make a case against this guy simply because it isn’t you.. which simply displays a lack of compassion and overall lack of emotional maturity.

              Lastly, there isn’t anything funny about us being a melting pot. Maybe the term is cheesy.. but it doesn’t make it any less true.

              1. Carlos Cunha

                Nah. I’m making a case against this guy because he’s an asshole.
                But who can blame him. I’ll bet The White Man, institutional racism, the Tooth Fairy, and any number of other figments of imagination have prevented achievement of all his hopes and dreams.

                1. Greg Williams

                  So he’s the asshole for reporting that a white person used a racial epithet? He used a word that he’s comfortable with using then reported her for using a word he wasn’t comfortable with. It was the reporter’s company that fired her not the black individual. Yet you’re blaming him and calling him names?

                  He has a right to use the word with other blacks and he has a right to be offended when a white person uses it. Any other action taken is on the news station NOT this individual… again.. seems like you’re just being anti-black because you don’t like anti-racism.. which simply makes you a contrarian. Just so you’re aware the N-Word was used by whites for decades to belittle blacks, thats not imaginary.. it’s historical fact.

                  1. Carlos Cunha

                    He’s an asshole for being a snitch and having such thin skin, regardless its level of melanin. The reporter’s former employer is a gathering off spineless cucks. I blame the faux-offended guy for allowing his greed and racism to instigate the whole situation.
                    If he has the right to pick and chose the vocabulary of others and when to be offended based on race, I demand the similar consideration. From today forward, blacks may not eat Wonder Bread, as it is a racially disparaging term for whites.

                    1. Greg Williams

                      Nobody is picking and choosing vocabulary. It’s common sense and logical for a previously oppressed group to be uncomfortable with the oppressive group using a term that (only 20 years ago and still in many parts today) was used to oppress them. You trying to make light of the fact that blacks are still uncomfortable with the N-Word is plainly stupid. The company made a smart decision.. especially in the south with its history of slavery and racism against blacks. If this was the case of a Black newscaster who called his white female newscaster the C word.. you’d be defending his firing.. at its base.. you’re just being racist which is laughable that someone with the name Carlos is trying to be racist against Blacks. You’re brown bro, just FYI.

                    2. Carlos Cunha

                      I was wondering how long it would take for you reach the point of calling me a racist. I’m disappointed, as I expected one or two more exchanged before you threw the rhetorical trump card.
                      Truth be told, I’m not brown. It’s a widely believed error among those who prefer identity politics to the work of delving into the hundreds of articles I’ve written over the years to discover the first thing about me. I invite you to visit my website for a primer on my body of work. It’s quite wide-ranging.
                      Ethnically, I’m Portuguese, and the second to be born in the US, for what that’s worth. The names Carlos, Miguel, Manuel, Maria, and several others are quite common in the Iberian Peninsula, which we share with Spain; historically and linguistically, as well as geographically. Brown people in the New World got those names from us.
                      You’re the racist for the assumptions about me based on a name that fits your prejudices. I eagerly await your next salvo where you compare me to Hitler.

                    3. Greg Williams

                      Regardless of the truth of the matter. Most people in our country would FIRST believe you to be of hispanic origin, especially with your name. That was the point I was making to you. Also, it’s highly unlikely that you don’t have at least SOME indigenous blood.. which at any rate, would be beside the point because you don’t need to BE another race or culture to have compassion.

                      You wanna call compassion an extreme term like SJW when in fact its just common human decency. She shouldn’t have said the word even if someone else did. Just like we tell children.. YOU do the right thing and don’t act wrongly simply because someone else does. If you, yourself, are admiting that the n-word is a negative, offensive term then I don’t see why you’re being so hard on a black guy that didn’t want to hear the term coming from a white person’s mouth. It lacks any kind of sensitivity to being aminority. Maybe in your head you’ve bought into the delusion that you’re european and maybe it makes you feel special to not have to care what blacks and brown folk have gone through historically.. but it’s just a word. It’s easy not to say it, if you know that it offends a certain group. Grow up!

                    4. Carlos Cunha

                      Yes, sir. You are accurate. I am a self-loathing, olive-toned racist who has aspirations of collaborating with white hegemony by picking on non-whites. Am I a Nazi, yet?

                    5. Greg Williams

                      There’s TRUTH in all joking brother. Glad you’re starting to expose yourself… to yourself.

  11. Brian

    What bothers me about this whole situation is the guy who had the video thought it was funny at first. It wasn’t until he started looking through her profile pics & saw she was a white woman, that it became an issue. Had she been a black female reporter we would have never heard of the story. I understand she shouldn’t have said it, but we can’t as a society have it both ways. Meaning, blacks can’t continue to use the N word, then get all offended when someone thats not black does. It is a horrible word that should be looked at like someone dropping the F-bomb with children in the room. Just my lowly opinion.

  12. newsmanatl

    It is “one lousy word.” Why do so many white people not get the basics of that and stay far, far away? I appreciate the empathy and support you’ve tried to express here (and have absolutely no doubt Valerie Hoff is a nice person who has done many, many good stories over the years), but I have a hard time imagining Doug Richards would make this particular mistake.

  13. Janice

    I seen the tweets and it was an innocent posting! What gets me is once the guy figured out Val was white he changed his story and mentioned a lawyer! It was as if he was trying to get money. Yes, it was an honest mistake and she regrets it but 18 years, 11Alive manger John D should have the balls to stand up for Val and keep her!

  14. Pingback: Recommended reading | Down the Road

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