The Liane Membis story you’re not reading…

Earlier this year, Liane Membis was not a name you would know. She might have been someone you wanted to meet or get to know but she was just a student. No biggie.

But then a couple of months ago, Liane Membis blew up the Internet. When you googled her name, you didn’t see school links, you saw headlines.

Headlines with “fired”, “dropped”, and “fabricated” in each one. Headlines that would make any journalist heartbroken…if they were about them.

Liane Membis was a Wall Street Journal intern who made news instead of reporting about it. As the headlines say, she was fired for allegedly fabricating sources for stories.

But to me the story is one-sided. We only know what she did, not what caused her to do it.

Yes, fabricating a source is the worst and the most serious offense you can commit as a journalist. It’s frowned upon for many reasons but mainly because we are the seekers of truth and the givers of knowledge. If we made up a source, we’d be breaking our vows to our readers, viewers, supporters. We wouldn’t be reporting the truth.

But again, I wonder what drove her to do this.

Liane was a recent graduate of Yale University, a member of a sorority, a leader in her community — she was like any journalist graduate I’ve ever met on paper! But something must have been up to make her feel this way.

As a recent graduate, I know exactly what it feels like to be an intern post-grad. You’re more driven and focused than the other interns because this could be your big break. This could be the internship that jump-starts your career in journalism; it could lead to your first job. It could be the beginning of everything.

That’s how I felt last year as an intern. I knew that I was in a great position to jump-start my career in a city I loved and in a major I was trained in. But with all that focus and drive comes great pressure. Because you are a post-grad intern, you feel the pressure to succeed. There’s no more school, there’s no going back to campus, there’s only what’s next….at least that’s how I felt.

And I wonder if that’s how Liane felt too. Was she nervous about not making a deadline? Or not making it under that pressure? Who knows? But that’s the question I wanted answered. I want to know what she was feeling or thinking when she possibly made that decision.

I wonder if anyone had ever told her, it’s okay if you don’t finish or don’t make deadline if you don’t have all the information you need for a good story. I was taught by my professors that honesty was the best policy. If I didn’t have all the sources, I told them that. I told them I needed more time or that the story wasn’t the full story without this missing part. I made sure my professors knew my situation before I published anything.

But I wonder if anyone had told her that. I know missing deadline isn’t pretty but it’s better than compromising your reputation as a journalist. But if no one ever told you that, how do you know?

How do you know that it’s okay to tell your editors, your superiors that you didn’t finish? How do you know that it’s okay to ask for a longer deadline to make certain that story is informative, interesting and factually correct?

Those are the questions I want to ask Liane if I could. I know she’s smart and even smart people question themselves. It’s human. No one is perfect and we all second guess ourselves sometimes.

To Liane, I want you to know that you’re not a bad journalist, you’re still learning, you’re still like a lot of us out there now, just trying to figure it out. Now I don’t know how long it’ll take before this will clear the air but I hope you keep your head up high. You are a smart, bright individual who may have second guessed yourself. It’s ok. We all do. I do. And I just want you to know that I know you’ll bounce back. Don’t give up hope, don’t let this stop you from becoming a great journalist.

So as with anything in life, make sure you get all the facts and get every side of the story because for every action there is an equal reaction and I always want to make sure I know both — the action and reaction.

Until next time,

KG

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4 thoughts on “The Liane Membis story you’re not reading…

  1. Interesting, but I just can’t agree. It’s terrible that it happened to her, but she really deserved it. With her education and training (And this wasn’t her first internship) she knew better.

    I hater to say it, but it’s hard to pity somebody when they do something that is the exact opposite of what they have been trained to do. She forgot the reasons that people are journalists. All that ethics training we get she turned her back on, so she could be recognized. When in all actuality, Journalists that are starving to be recognized don’t turn out to be that great.

    The ones that actually do exceedingly well just have a heart for telling stories and they love only that. She was in it for herself, and while trying to make her case for a position she outed herself as a pseudo-journalist.

    Good write up though.

  2. Well, I will say, I don’t pity her, I just wish I could hear what she’s listening and just why she did it. But I agree, she broke our cardinal rule but honestly, only time will tell what happens with her and let’s hope a lot of people learn from this. And thanks for your comment, we journalists need to talk about these things more.

  3. I’m a PR guy. Same world though. Also Congratulations Kirstin, I hear your name every so often and you seem like you’re making things happen for yourself.

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