Meghan Mangrum moved to Dallas last summer to cover education as part of the Dallas Morning News’ Education Lab. She’d previously worked the education beat in Tennessee for six years, at the Tennessean and, before that, at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. But she’s a hockey fan from Florida.
So on Saturday, February 11, when the Tampa Bay Lightning came to Dallas for a matinee match, Mangrum headed to the American Airlines Center for her first Stars game. A little before 1 p.m., running late for the puck drop, she saw that Mayor Eric Johnson had criticized local media for, in his view, not fully reporting the good news about Dallas’ crime numbers dropping for the second consecutive year. The mayor opined that reporters were interested only in bad news.
In a tweet that would change the trajectory of her career, Mangrum wrote the following: “Bruh, national news is always going to chase the trend. Cultivate relationships with quality local news partnerships.”
“He was going after local media for their coverage of crime,” Mangrum tells me two weeks later, “and I saw some of my colleagues responding to him, tweeting out stories the Dallas Morning News has done, saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Mayor, you know this isn’t quite fair.’”
Mangrum adds, “Standing up for my colleagues and the work that we do, when I know we’re doing good and honest work, is something I pride myself on and something that I look for in my colleagues and in my workplace as well.”
That’s not the way her workplace saw it. Three days after she sent that tweet, she was fired for addressing the mayor as “bruh.”
The Lightning beat the Stars 3-1. Later that day, Mangrum got an email from an editor saying her presence was requested at a Monday meeting. An HR rep got looped in. And that’s how Mangrum found herself getting grilled by the paper’s executive editor, Katrice Hardy. According to Mangrum, Hardy, who is Black, asked her if she would have used the word “bruh” if the mayor were White. Mangrum, who is White, said yes. Her Twitter feed is littered with the word “bruh” directed at all sorts of accounts, including those belonging to hockey fans and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife.
Mangrum says she knows it’s not her place to tell people how they should feel. “I would never tell a person of color, ‘Oh, it wasn’t racist. You shouldn’t feel that way,'” Mangrum says. “But I know my intent, and it was not at all about race. I use that word with my friends and when I tweet about hockey. It’s just part of my vernacular. I grew up in Central Florida, and, you know, I’m a millennial.”
The morning following that meeting, Mangrum helped organize and participated in a union protest in front of the News’ downtown headquarters. The Dallas News Guild has wrangled with management over a host of issues, including equal pay for the staff of Al Dia. The union found that some of the staff at the Spanish-language publication were earning half of what their peers with similar experience were earning at the News. Later that day, Mangrum was fired. She was told she’d violated the paper’s social media policy. She says they didn’t tell her which specific part of the policy she’d violated.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Tristan Hallman, declined to comment on the matter. Hardy also declined to comment. Regina Caldwell, an executive in the News’ human resources department, did not reply to an email seeking comment.
It’s impossible, at this point, to say whether the mayor might have privately put pressure on the paper to take action. Publicly, though, both he and Hallman called out Mangrum on Twitter for using the word “bruh.” Ever the industrious reporter, Mangrum has filed an open-records request with the city of Dallas seeking any communication between her former employer and the mayor’s office.
It’s worth noting that Mangrum didn’t reach out to D Magazine to tell her story. I’m the one who contacted her. She told me it was important to her that this report not focus solely on her, that the larger context of the union’s activities be included. Which brings us to a statement I received from Leah Waters, chairperson of the Dallas News Guild. It reads, in full:
The Dallas News Guild and the DallasNews Corp are nearing the end of contract negotiations, which are in their third year.
The Guild has filed six Unfair Labor Practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB has found that the first, for failing to notify the Guild and bargain with its agents over changes to our health care plan under status quo, had merit. A settlement is pending.
Other complaints assert the following: 1) violating terms of an agreement related to employees’ return to work after a working from home practice; 2) bargaining in bad faith over sections of the collective bargaining agreement whereby the Company would unilaterally control significant terms of our employment with the intent of pushing out bargaining unit employees; 3) the closure of a Washington, D.C. bureau office, resulting in a material and substantial change to workers’ daily lives; 4) the interference of and retaliation against concerted union activity related to the closure of the Washington office; and 5) the implementation of required company handbook training and signed attestation form without notification and the opportunity to bargain.
The Dallas Guild News also filed an unfair labor complaint against DallasNews Corporation with the National Labor Relations Board on February 17 after the termination of an employee and Guild organizer. [Ed: that was the firing of Mangrum.] Our complaint states the employee was terminated in deviation from status quo and unilaterally, without notice to the Guild or an opportunity to bargain. The employee’s termination came directly after their participation in a collective action with the intent to cause a chilling effect on the bargaining unit.
Agents of the Dallas News Guild and its parent, Media Guild of the West TNG-CWA #39213, have a duty to fairly represent all workers of our Guild in situations where discipline, including termination, occurs. As such, the Guild’s Unit Council voted unanimously to file the complaint with the NLRB in an effort to investigate the extent to which the employee’s union activity was or was not related to the discipline issued by the Company.
NLRB complaints take quite a while to iron out. So for now, Mangrum is moving back to her parents’ house in Florida while she looks for another job. This isn’t at all how she imagined things would go when she moved here. She says one of her mentors commented that her career was rocketing upward.
“Coming to a what historically has been one of the best newspapers in the country, it was a step up,” she says. “And joining the Ed Lab team specifically was kind of a dream come true.”
All it took to kill that dream was one “bruh.”