Oklahoma City news anchor resigns, charges TV station with racism

The allegations continue a trend of employees speaking out about abuse and harassment at Hearst-owned properties.
(Still frame via Porsha Riley’s YouTube page, Graphic by The Desk)

A television reporter based in Oklahoma City has resigned after accusing the station of failing to address numerous incidents of racism involving co-workers and the public.

In an open letter that was broadcast via YouTube this week, KOCO-TV (Channel 5) reporter Porsha Riley said her resignation came after being subjected to racist incidents while working for the station.

“I’m not the first journalist who has gone through things here, and I hope I’m the last,” Riley said. “I don’t believe so, but there’s just a lot that’s gone down.”

Riley said she was subject to verbal abuse when a photographer assigned to one of her stories allegedly used a racial slur in her presence. She also claimed to have participated in a meeting with station management over objectionable social media posts that were made by the station’s news director, whom Riley did not mention by name.

KOCO is an ABC affiliate owned by Hearst Television, the broadcast arm of publishing company Hearst Communications. The station drew international attention when morning show anchor Alex Housden said a gorilla featured in a story looked like a Black co-host.

Housden apologized for the gaffe, but the incident triggered an internal investigation at KOCO over race relations at the station. It also led to a bigger discussion within Hearst Television over race relations at the company.

Despite this, Riley said things did not improve at KOCO. She described how she was assigned to cover former president Donald Trump’s numerous rallies in Oklahoma, but was only assigned a security guard once. During his campaign, Trump and his supporters repeatedly used violent rhetoric toward journalists.

At other times, Riley said she was assigned to cover protests within Oklahoma City and neighboring community, and was often paired up with security guards who embraced views she said were racist.

At the start of her career, Riley learned of a policy at Hearst Television in which the station’s online staffers would create and maintain social media pages that were “owned” by the company. Riley said the station never did this, so she created her own profiles in order to build her personal and professional brand.

When her contract was up for renewal, the station finally created KOCO-branded social profiles for Riley to use. There, Riley said she was frequently harassed by online users, and the station failed to adequately address those comments.

Seeing a lack of response, Riley said she took matters into her own hands and addressed the harassment on the social media profiles that Hearst had created for her. That action drew the scrutiny of her managers, Riley alleged.

“There’s just been so many things outside of race that have played a part in this, but a lot of it had to do with not addressing racism and addressing a situation so miniscule as the one regarding the Hearst social media pages in the way that they should have addressed those racist incidents,” Riley said. “They should have [taken] that same energy to serious, serious issues…if that had happened, I feel like this situation plays out different.”

Riley said the decision to move on from KOCO is heartbreaking because she was born and raised in Oklahoma City and was hoping her career would continue in the community where she has roots.

“I wanted to be here, I wanted to stick it out, I wanted to tough it out,” Riley said. “But there comes a point, like I said — I have a young Black son, which gets me emotional, and that’s just not something that I want to, that’s not an example that I want to set for him, to settle and take it.”

A spokesperson for the station declined to comment on Riley’s allegations, but said the broadcaster wished her well in her career.

Hearst Communications came under fire last year when the chief executive of its publishing arm, Troy Young, was accused of leading a toxic culture within the magazine division that allowed abusive behavior to fester.

In some instances reported by the New York Times, Young himself was alleged to have made several sexual and sexist remarks, sometimes in the presence of female subordinates.

Young initially responded to the allegations by saying that they were “untrue, greatly exaggerated or taken out of context.”

“The pace of evolving our business and the strength of my commitment is ambitious, and I sincerely regret the toll it has taken on some in our organization,” Young said.

After that comment, it took less than 24 hours for Young to hand in his letter of resignation.

In 2018, a Black video editor named Jazmin Jones accused Hearst of fostering an environment of racism shortly after the brand’s female-focused magazine Cosmopolitan hired Jessica Pels as its lead editor.

In a video published to Instagram, Jones accused Pels of making disparaging remarks about Black people in online channels used by company employees, specifically the group messaging application Slack. Jones eventually published an image of the Slack conversation that appeared to show Pels acknowledging her comment was a violation of the company’s policy.

“Hearst doesn’t care about you if you’re not a skinny white lady,” Jones remarked.

Prachi Gupta, a political columnist who also worked for Cosmopolitan under Pels, later echoed similar sentiments when she complained that there “were no women of color in leadership positions” during her time with the magazine.

“When I began to ask questions, I was told to stay in my place an dbe quiet,” Gupta, who is of Indian descent, wrote in a lengthy Twitter post last June. “Despite doing headline making work, I was later seen as a troublemaker. From the get-go, I was tokenized. A white [public relations] person at Hearst told me that it would be easy to book me for media appearances because my look was ‘very on trend,’ and it was clear she meant that I wasn’t white.”

Jones and Gupta no longer work for Hearst. Pels has maintained her position within the company.

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