After a few horrifying experiences in broadcast television, Valeria Sistrunk, 27, came up with a solution to give other journalists a headsup about various workplaces.
Inspired by the anonymous teaching review site RateMyProfessor.com, Sistrunk launched RateMyStation.com so that journalists could write reviews of their experiences at various newsrooms across the country. Launched in November 2017, the site receives between 40,000 and 60,000 visitors per month.
None of the reviews, however, have been written by Sistrunk, who started her media career while still in high school when she wound up taking an elective class in newscasting. She got to tour CNN and a local PBS station. It inspired her to become a broadcasting student in college when she went to Florida A&M University.
But when she started her professional career things weren’t too rosy — or welcoming. Her first job was at WSAW-TV, in Wausau, Wisconsin, and she was expected to do it all — she served as her own camera operator and truck driver, earning just $22,000 per year. She was also the only person of color in the newsroom. She then moved on to Chattanooga, Tennessee, at WDEF-TV. She made $26,000. “Things started well, but eventually she came to feel that her job was taking a toll on her mental health. Sistrunk was required to shoot her own video, report, edit, post on social media, and complete other tasks over 12-hour days—a schedule typical of reporters at local TV stations,” Columbia Journalism Review reported.
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At WDEF, she found herself being called into human resources repeatedly over “petty” wrongdoings. “It was at least every three months I was getting written up for something,” said Sistrunk, who was constantly butting heads with her news director, Dutch Terry, who often threatened to fire her.
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The job led Sistrunk to have struggles with anxiety and depression. And she developed an eating disorder. She entered therapy and ultimately left the job.
Eventually, she left TV news altogether and that’s when she decided to launch RateMyStation.com. “The site now hosts nearly 500 reviews of stations across the country…Reviews are anonymous, but to contribute one, site visitors must fill out a survey with questions about their salary, the station’s news director, and the types of contracts employees are required to sign. There are also queries about experiences with sexual harassment, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and the overall work environment. Sistrunk reads all reviews before they are published and verifies each author’s email address to make sure it’s not being reused to submit reviews for the same station more than once,” Columbia Journalism Review reported.
“Before my website, I would always apply to jobs using TVjobs.com. I was throwing darts at a dart board with blindfolds on and hoping it sticks. That’s the only way I can describe the process. There was no direction. When you apply to a station, you’re hoping it’s a good station. It may be in a good market, maybe the number #1 station,” she told Glo and Growth. You sign a two-year contract. Then two months later, the reporters tell you the news director is toxic, or the news director is sexist or racist. You think, wow why didn’t you tell me that before I signed the contract. That’s because everyone is afraid, afraid to tell the truth. That’s why I think my website is so important because there wasn’t a safe place for people to tell the truth about their stations and what’s really going on.
“As Black women, we have two strikes,” Sistrunk says. “I’m confident enough to say I was a damn good reporter because I was a damn good reporter. And when you are a minority — a double minority — and you’re talented, there are going to be times when news directors are going to challenge that or aren’t going to even like that about you.”
Sistrunk also started selling products online, using a service called Teespring. The merchandise is designed with phrases like “Dope Assignment Editor,” “Dope Producer,” and “#Newsbae.”