The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Dallas reporter called the mayor ‘bruh.’ Was her firing too harsh?

‘I’m a millennial. That’s a term I use all the time.’

Mayor Eric Johnson at City Hall in Dallas in 2020. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
7 min

When the Dallas Morning News fired reporter Meghan Mangrum last month after she posted a tweet addressed to the mayor, it was, she says, over a single word: “bruh.”

Mangrum’s dismissal, and her use of the term to address Mayor Eric Johnson, set off a storm of responses spanning issues of race, workers’ rights and one factor that guides many people’s sense of what is appropriate: a generational divide.

Mangrum, 31, who had covered education for the paper since August, tweeted Feb. 11 in response to a tweet by Johnson saying local media had “no interest” in reporting good news.

She wrote: “Bruh, national news is always going to chase the trend. Cultivate relationships with quality local news partnerships.”

The mayor’s office responded the same day. Johnson, 47, tweeted, “Gotta love when folks let their inherent biases show. I get to be addressed as ‘bruh’ by someone who writes for my daily local paper whom I’ve never met.”

His chief of staff, Tristan Hallman, a former Dallas Morning News reporter, tweeted, “Calling the mayor ‘bruh’ is disrespectful. Be a pro.”

Mangrum says she was summoned to a meeting two days later with top editors who asked about the tweet, which included a question from Executive Editor Katrice Hardy about whether she would have used the word “bruh” had the mayor been White. (Mangrum is White; Johnson and Hardy are Black.)

“I told her I would have used the word “bruh,” in any context,” she told The Washington Post. “I told her I was shocked that anyone would perceive it as being racially charged.”

Hardy said in an email, “We do not comment on personnel issues.” Hallman told The Washington Post, “We did not pressure the Dallas Morning News or ask them to do anything.”

Johnson has used the word “bruh” in tweets in the past; Hallman did not respond to a question about them.

Gen Z came to ‘slay.’ Their bosses don’t know what that means.

The Dallas News Guild has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the dismissal, noting that Mangrum was a union member who helped organize a picket that took place on the same day she was fired.

“Our complaint states the employee was terminated in deviation from status quo and unilaterally, without notice to the Guild or an opportunity to bargain,” a statement from the guild said. “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.”

Mangrum said she filed a Freedom of Information Act request for communications between the news organization and the mayor’s office during the three days between her tweet and her termination, and received a response Thursday that did not indicate any discussion of her or her Twitter post.

Mangrum, who grew up in central Florida, said she has used the term “bruh” in a variety of tweets in the past. “It’s just like a casual way of showing that you’re disappointed or shocked by something,” she said.

“I’m a millennial,” she said. “That’s a term I use all the time.”

That may have led to her professional woes, said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

“Clearly there’s been a cultural trend of less formality … and it’s pretty clear there’s a generational gap,” she said. “Millennials and Gen Z are more casual and they’re casual with everyone.”

Journalists getting in trouble with their bosses over questionable Twitter judgment is nothing new. In recent years, a number of media organizations, including The Washington Post, have found themselves the subject of unwanted public scrutiny over social media posts. A generation gap between reporters and top managers has been a factor in some of those situations.

Younger people tend to value individualism more than older ones, said Twenge, who is also the author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” “They don’t put as much currency in hierarchy and are more inclined to just be themselves” regardless of whom they are addressing.

Young people are also able to call out public figures directly in a way previous generations were not, said Sylvia Sierra, assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University and author of “Millennials Talking Media.” “Twitter is a more informal, playful context, and it’s one in which your average person has access to politicians and celebrities in a way they didn’t before, so you’re going to get people addressing them in a way they never had access to before the advent of social media.”

Mangrum agreed that her age was probably a factor. “I do think there’s a generational divide on values and the use of social media,” she said. “I think that I probably, maybe to my detriment, have followed a lot of vocal, young, strong reporters on Twitter.”

Cringe quiz: Are you fluent in Gen-Z office speak?

She said editors cited three policies she had violated, including a social media policy, but did not specify what the violations were, and she did not have a copy of the policy. She said she had never received any discipline or warning from the paper previously.

“Between crying and wanting to vomit, I asked, ‘Is it normal for someone to be fired after violating the social media policy one time?’” she said. “I think they went from zero to 100.”

The Twittersphere’s response to Mangrum’s firing ranged widely. Some users said she deserved to be fired and should have been more careful; some faulted Johnson for his response, including one who called him a “snowflake.”

Some blasted the news organization. Cassandra Jaramillo, a former Dallas Morning News reporter who now works at ProPublica, tweeted: “There is a history of DMN staffers doing much worse things and yet never facing such stiff discipline. This is so ridiculous. I had to read it twice.”

Sierra said members of Gen Z — the generation below Mangrum’s — are even more apt to casually use the word “bruh,” and its definition can be ambiguous.

“There’s so many potential meanings, and not everyone agrees on it," she said, adding that the fact that the word has African American roots may have played into the situation in ways Mangrum wasn’t aware of.

“I think that maybe because the mayor was Black he was more aware of that context," she said. "So maybe it does seem disrespectful to have a young White person use it on him. It’s really like a classic almost cross-cultural miscommunication.”

Mangrum said she has learned from the experience and believes there are “valid conversations about language and who uses it and deference to elected officials.”

But she said she is concerned that her firing may have a chilling effect on other reporters.

“The discipline doesn’t seem to follow past precedent, and the reactions from other people in the newsroom are, ‘Are we allowed to picket? Are we allowed to complain?’” Mangrum said.

“I’m devastated that I lost a dream job that I moved across the country for,” she said. “I’m also concerned about my former colleagues and the atmosphere this creates in the newsroom.”