Justin McLeod's Blog

August 15


They say all good things must come to an end.  With that, I'm leaving WDBJ and the news business.  I've accepted a position as the community relations coordinator for Roanoke City Schools.  There are several reasons why I'm switching careers.  I'd like to share some with you.

At 36, I need to try something new.  I haven't really been challenged for awhile.  I guess you could say I'm going through a mini mid-life crisis.  I'm told that is normal for people in their mid-30's.  From sometime, I've been asking myself do I want to do this for the rest of my life?  I've looked in my imaginary crystal ball and discovered the answer is no.  My friends and colleagues are surprised by this.  One of my old bosses e-mailed me and said "say it ain't so."  Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be my journalist.  Some of my friends have told me you will always be one.  They think I will be bored doing public relations.  They may be right.  I just don't know. 

Sure, I'm not going to miss working holidays or reporting live outside in a snowstorm.  But one of the main reasons I'm leaving TV news is because I can't stomach it as much.  A few years ago, we had this talented photographer leave the business.  I asked her why.  She was so good at what she did.  She told me "I'm tired of being there on the worst day of people's lives."  What she said really struck me.  My moment came after the shootings at Virginia Tech.  I had never seen so much misery in my life.  Frankly, I don't want to ever see that again.  Last winter when a police officer was shot and killed on the Virginia Tech campus, I was covering a story in Staunton.  When I heard the news, all the memories from April 16th, 2007 came rushing back.  Honestly, I was relieved I wasn't close enough to cover another tragic event on campus. 

Of course, there are other reasons.  People just seem to have so much hatred and distrust of journalists these days.  It is partly our fault.  We don't do a good enough job of explaining why we do the things we do.  But in the last few years, the hatred has reached another level.  I blame the popularity of web comments and social media sites like facebook.  Some of the comments just blow me away.  Granted, I'm not always a nice person.  I've said plenty of things that are hurtful but what many are writing these days is just unbelievable. 

TV news has changed a lot since I started 15 years ago.  That is to be expected.  Every industry changes over time.  But there are some changes I just don't agree with.  I hate that the news media has become so partisan.  If you are a conservative, you watch FOX News.  If you are a liberal, you watch MSNBC.  Unfortunately, the public is now more suspicious of all journalists.  People overanalyze every word we write.  We get criticized from the left, we get criticized from the right.  There are days I just want to tell people to calm down.  There is no conspiracy.  I have said this before and I will say it again, I've never had anyone tell me to slant a story a certain way.

A lot of Americans believe journalists are a bunch of liberals.  I haven't really weighed in on that topic before because I don't think it is an argument I could win.  I wish my colleagues, especially in the national news media, would take a step back and ask themselves "do they have a point?  Are journalists too liberal?  Are they unfair to conservatives?  Stop debating and denying.  Since the news business has changed so much, can't we all just admit our biases and move on?  All journalists are biased in some ways.  I think some are better controlling it than others.  I took my responsibility to be fair and balanced very seriously.  I wasn't perfect.  I wish more journalists would be less defensive and more open to asking why do people have a negative perception of us.

But let me be clear, I don't regret my years in TV news.  I met some great people, covered many great stories, and got to go places many don't ever get to see.  There will be times I will miss TV news.  I am not leaving the area.  I'm looking forward to my new role with Roanoke City Schools.  It will be different and it will be scary but I think this is a good move for me.  Thanks for putting up with me over the years.  I've screwed up plenty, put on and lost weight countless times, and have tried to do everything I could to control that awful cowlick I have in the front of my hair.  Take care and God Bless.



July 20

Media Firestorm

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, then you know I don't shy away from controversial topics.  So it shouldn't come as any surprise that I would eventually write about the media firestorm involving me!  It had to do with my story about an ex-porn star named Harmony Rose.  She is now a volunteer EMT with the Cave Spring Rescue Squad.

Reaction to the piece was swift and overwhelming.  A lot of people weren't happy that we did the story.  They felt it wasn't news.  The reason we did the story is because county leaders had concerns.  The fire chief even asked the county attorney for a legal opinion on the matter. 

Some felt we defamed Harmony Rose.  I don't buy that argument.  There was nothing factually wrong with the story.  People also believed because I did the story that somehow I was passing judgment on her.  That argument has me scratching my head.  A few weeks ago, I covered Mitt Romney's speech in Salem.  Does that automatically make me a supporter of Mitt Romney?  No.  So just because I do a story about an ex-porn star doesn't mean I think she shouldn't be a volunteer. 

We had more than 500 comments posted on the station's Facebook page.  Most of it was negative towards me and the station.  Judging by the comments, I don't think a lot of people actually watched the story.  If you did, you would have seen we interviewed a lot of people who defended Ms. Rose.  Several people wrote that if you were dying, would you really care whether the person saving your life was an ex-porn star.   We had a person at the end of the piece saying that exact thing!!!!!

We received a lot of criticism from other news media.  A media blogger wrote that WDBJ linked her porn on our website.  We NEVER did that.  Other news media re-printed the wrong information without checking the facts.  Sad.  Several news media organizations that criticized us actually posted a photo gallery with several suggestive photos of Ms. Rose.  So it's ok to post pictures but not video?  Again, we never had a link on our website to her porn.

What bothered me the most were the comments written about me.  They were extremely hateful.  People called me a disgrace, a jerk, and told me I should be ashamed.  Some compared me to Jerry Springer.  One guy even said I was like an unpaid, untrained janitor.  Several people wondered if I did the story after catching one of her videos online.  A woman posted that I must have a personal vendetta against Ms. Rose because she rejected me.  For the record, I've never met Harmony Rose. 

My friends and colleagues told me to ignore all the negative comments about me.  That is hard to do.  I've been with WDBJ for nearly 13 years.  I do one story that you don't like and all of sudden I'm one of the worst human beings on earth?  One of my Facebook friends, who just a few weeks ago wished me a Happy Birthday, turned around and told me I was a disgrace. It shows people will turn on you in a heartbeat.  The funny thing is I didn't have one person come up to me in public to complain about the story.

If I had to do the story all over again, I would re-write one line in the piece.  It said "just Google her name and you'll find hundreds of pornographic videos of her."  People took that to mean I was telling them how to find her porn.  That was never my intent.  However, I can see why people took it that way.  For that reason, I am truly sorry. 

But let me be clear, I'm not apologizing for doing the story.  I still believe it was newsworthy and was a good piece of journalism.  I realize a lot of people won't agree with me but sometimes we have to do stories that are unpopular.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't do them.

July 9

Holy War

A viewer was upset at WDBJ 7 for covering the annual Jehovah's Witnesses convention at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Here's what she e-mailed to us: 

May THE ONLY TRUE GOD bless beyond any shadow of a doubt WDBJ's
Management, Owners, Producers, and all other responsible staff for
promoting and advancing the cause of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the
WatchTower Society ---- IF AND ONLY IF the JWs actually are the "Only
True Religion" on this planet as they claim to be, ---- and IF AND ONLY
IF the "Gospel" of the WatchTower Society is the True Gospel of Jesus

However, if the Jehovah's Witnesses and the WatchTower Society are
actually a satanic, pseudo-christian CULT, which preaches a false gospel
that misleads people away from true worship of mankind's Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Heavenly Father, then may THE ONLY TRUE
GOD properly CURSE these same individuals, as well as the affiliates of
this media conglomerate, who have all effectively joined the Jehovah's
Witnesses as co-conspirators in their international "anti-christ

Her argument seems a little ridiculous to me.  I guess by covering the convention, somehow we are endorsing that religion?  We are part of some conspiracy?  The reason we did a story on it is because the convention attracts a lot of people to Roanoke every year.  When you drive by the Roanoke Civic Center, you can't help but notice all the cars in the parking lot.  Haven't you wondered what is going on over there?  That is news to me.

I am not a Jehovah's Witness.  I don't share their beliefs.  But who am I to judge?  Who is she to judge?  Here in the U.S., we have freedom of religion.  I think it is absurd to expect the news media only to cover the religions that it agrees with.  Silliness.


May 24

Anatomy of a story

Last week, we reported the Roanoke Times was pulling most of its funding for the July 4th celebration in Roanoke, Music for Americans.  The story aired on Friday.  It prompted a debate in our newsroom and at least one question from a viewer.  As a result, I wanted to explain how and why we did the story.

We debated whether to mention the Roanoke Times sponsored the event.  They are a competitor and we didn't want it to seem like we were picking on them.  In the end, we decided to report the name of the sponsor.  The reason?  The newspaper had sponsored the event for 35 years and the event was called the "Roanoke Times Music for Americans." 

I also received an e-mail asking how we found out about the story.  If you saw the report, we mentioned WDBJ-TV, along with Kroger and the Roanoke Times, are paying for the July 4th fireworks.  This viewer wondered if the managers at WDBJ tipped us off about it.  Not true.  We actually found out WDBJ 7's involvement by accident.  Here's what happened.  I got a tip.  A woman called me and said she was hearing rumors the event was in danger of being canceled.  She asked me to look into it.  I then got in touch with the show's producer.  He confirmed the information to me.   The next day in our editorial meeting, I pitched the July 4th story.  At least one person chuckled "wouldn't it be great if WDBJ stepped in to save the day?"  My boss went up the hall to the front office to tell them that idea.  That is when the higher ups informed us WDBJ was helping to pay for the fireworks.  I know it is hard to believe but sometimes there really is a simple explanation.



May 18

Public Prayer

The issue of public prayer is making headlines again.  This time, it is in Franklin County.  The Board of Supervisors usually opens their meetings with a prayer.  It has prompted both praise and protest.  The issue also has people fired up in Pittsylvania County. It's even led to a lawsuit. In both cases, Christians have showed up in large numbers to support public prayer.

I am not here to speak for or against public prayer.  You will never win an argument when it comes to religion.  However, I think this is another example of much abo about nothing.  As a reporter, I've covered countless City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings over the years.  They are usually boring affairs, but that's for another time.  The reality is only a handful of people typically show up for these meetings.  They are not well attended.  Because of that, I wonder does public prayer really impact anyone?  I would ask protesters and supporters of public prayer, when is the last time you attended a City Council or Board of Supervisors meeting in the past year?  I'd be willing to put money on the table it isn't many.  Can we put this nonsense to bed and move on to other things?


May 4



I complain too much in my blog.  Today, I'm going for something a little more upbeat.  This week, I was sitting in an ice cream shop (hey, it feels like summer already) when I looked over and saw this little girl with a cup of ice cream.  She was probably no more than four years old.  You should have seen the big smile on her face.  Her eyes were wide open as she dug her spoon into the ice cream.  I couldn't help but smile.  It brought back so many memories.

Hard to believe but I was a kid at one time.  My brother, sister, and me were always asking, more like pleading with our parents, to take us to get ice cream.  We loved this place called Peaceful Meadows.  It is located in Whitman, Massachusetts.  It was only about 15 minutes away but it always felt like an eternity to get there.  This was the happening place when I was a kid.  You would drive up and there would be long lines at all hours of the day. 

My favorite flavors were black raspberry and peppermint patty.  This was a different kind of peppermint patty.  There weren't any chunks of the popular candy.  It was multi-colored, almost like a rainbow.  I think that was part of the attraction, but of course also the flavor.  YUM.   I usually ended up wearing most of the ice cream on my face than actually eating it.  Yeah, I guess I was a cute kid.  When I was young, my blond hair was more white.  My parents say people used to come up to me at the ice cream shop and touch my head because they were wowed.  Today, I am more of a dark blond.  I'm holding out hope I will always be blond.  We shall see.

Like most kids, we had a nickname for Peaceful Meadows.  We called it the farm.  That's because it is surrounded by a farm.  There were cows outside in a pasture as well inside a nearby barn.  The smell was terrible but we always got our ice cream and then headed inside to pat the cows.  We got a kick out of teasing the cows to make them mooo.  Boy, they were loud.  I cried countless times when I leaned over to pat the cows and one of them ate my ice cream.  We didn't realize it then but it is kinda sick the cow is essentially eating itself....but I digress.

Today, getting ice cream is different.  It is all about getting your ice cream mixed up on a cold slab of stone.  What this adds to the flavor I'm not sure.  Speaking of flavors, there are sooooo many.  That's not necessarily a good thing.  I recently tried cinnabon ice cream.  I wasn't impressed.  I guess I am more of an old fashioned ice cream kinda guy.  Also, why the need for so many condiments?  Ice cream tastes fine without them.  Ok, I promised not to complain too much so I am going to quit while I am ahead.  Take care and be sure to have a scoop!


April 6