Friday, March 4, 2011

Outerwear bias at North Penn?

This photo, taken in The Reporter newsroom by Amanda Piccirilli, shows how suspicious I probably looked March 3.

I can laugh about it now, but I ran into an instance of TSA-like profiling at, of all places, North Penn High School.
The school district had invited the media to cover the high school's Family & Consumer Sciences fashion show March 3. I put in a courtesy RSVP phone call to Carol Fink at the ESC well in advance to let her know that I was going to cover it. As far as I'm concerned, the school district knows that I'm going to be there at that date and time.
Photographer Geoff Patton and I arrived at about the same time to sign in at the security desk, per procedure. We each asked if we needed an official visitor sticker to proceed to the auditorium, but for whatever reason, we were told to skip that procedure and go about our business. I thought that was a nice gesture because it shows that they know who we are, that we're there on professional business and to give positive media coverage for the school, and they wanted to make our jobs easier.
That all Reporter staff writers carry Flip video cameras should be news to no one. We've been shooting and posting video online for more than a year now. And the fashion show is an event that's just begging for video coverage to compliment the coverage in print.
It was more than 40 minutes into the fashion show, when a teacher asks why I don't have a visitor sticker -- never mind that I've been in the building for a good while and given authorization to be there -- and she insisted on escorting me back to the security desk, interrupting the performance of my job. As far as I could tell, I was not being disruptive, breaking any rule or doing anything inappropriate.
There were people taking pictures (and probably video too) all over the auditorium. The teacher didn't interrupt Geoff, who also did not have a sticker. Why was I singled out? It finally dawned on me when I returned to the newsroom afterward, and staff writer Dan Sokil quipped that I looked suspicious wearing a trenchcoat carrying a Flip camera.
The 1999 tragedy at Columbine still has people that freaked out about trenchcoats? Seriously? Honestly, does it make me look like a terrorist or a pedophile? What's the hangup here? I don't get it.
For the record, in the 11 years that I've been at The Reporter, my relationship with North Penn High School had been perfect ... until I was made to feel like a criminal for doing my job.
Anybody want my coat for free? Apparently I need something that makes me look less like a derelict in the eyes of the fashion police.
By the way, here's the video. I like the way it turned out.


  1. Very sad to see a good looking, hard working man treated so shabbily for wearing a trenchcoat and using a flipPhone. Especially after you did ask for a Visitor's Sticker. You don't look suspicious to me. And probably didn't to anyone else. Let's focus on the over-reacting teacher? Maybe you resemble an ex-husband/lover/boyfriend/crush? She's bitter, frustrated, and had to take it out somewhere on someone. That is my theory. Get a new coat if you like, and look damn good in it! Then see if anyone has the nerve to treat you like a terrorist.

  2. In defense of the teacher, can we ever be too cautious when protecting kids in school in this kind of situation? It seems this is a case of "better safe than sorry." In this day and age we have to put up with some inconveniences every once in awhile.

  3. Thanks for your respectful, level-headed comment, Bethanie. I hope it comes through that I was trying to be more light-hearted about it than snarky.