Interview by Angela Lindley
Recent SOJ graduate A.J. Clemente (BSJ, 2010) was reviewing his script for a newscast at a Bismarck, N.D., television station, when he cursed to himself. He was unaware that his microphone was live, and his profanity was heard on-air. A video of the incident quickly went viral, and Clemente was fired. In the days that followed, however, he became an “Internet celebrity” and appeared on national programs like the Today Show and The Late Show with David Letterman where he often received sympathy from the hosts.
Below is a Q&A with A.J. about the experience?and the lessons he learned.
Q: What went through your head when you realized your profanity had been caught on air?
During the [third] break, the news director came in to tell me what had happened. I thought she was going to compliment me on how well I was doing, but when I found out what had happened, I felt horrible. After the commercial, I apologized profusely on-air.
Q: What was the first thing you did after the broadcast that night?
I called my parents and some friends to tell them what happened. I told my Mom I messed up pretty bad. Then I just tried to contain it before it went crazy because I know how these things work. It was a serious incident, but I also knew the video was funny, so it would be popular.
Q: Were you fired immediately or after the clip went viral?
The clip went viral that night. Before I even left the station, it had 250,000 hits on Deadspin.com. I knew once morning came, it was going to take off even more. I met with the station’s general manager the next morning. No one was angry at all, but he told me, “There’s nothing we can do. I wish you the best of luck.” I apologized again for what happened, and that was it. I left to clean off my desk. I’d only been there three weeks, so there wasn’t much on it.
Q: How does it feel to go from recent graduate at your first job to an “Internet celebrity” overnight?
I guess it still hasn’t hit me. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have wanted this to happen. I would just want to go back to work like everybody else and work my way to the top the way I’m supposed to.
But I think it’s awesome that my name is out there. Everybody keeps telling me that everything happens for a reason. In the beginning I thought, “What could possibly be the reason that I was supposed to make a complete idiot of myself?” And now, I feel like maybe this really was supposed to happen.
Q. What has surprised you the most?
Definitely the number of supporters has been great. I didn’t expect that. I think I’m at 14,000–15,000 Twitter followers, and I started with 200 before the show. A lot of people are telling me I shouldn’t have been fired.
Honestly, I expected to be the butt of the joke. In fact, when it first happened, I thought, “That’s it, I’m going back to bartending, and that’s going to my life.”
Q: What was the day of your TV appearances like? What were the highlights?
It’s been stressful but also a lot of fun. I don’t have an agent, so I’ve been getting bombarded with messages, phone calls and texts. The Today Show was the most nerve-wracking because it was the first time I was on-air since the incident. But it went well, and after that, it was just smooth sailing, and the nerves were gone. I tried to schedule interviews that I knew weren’t going to make me look bad. I did try to play around and have fun with it, even though it is a serious topic.
Of course, there are critics, but you can’t respond to criticism. I’m just glad I have so many supporters. All the broadcasters I met told me that everybody has done it. Maybe they didn’t get caught on camera, but everyone at one time or another has had something similar happen, and they’ve gotten past it.
Q: What is your next career move now?
There have been no official job offers yet, but I’ve seen a couple of offers on my Twitter feed that I need to follow-up with.
I want to stay in the business of television. I like the news. I love sports, and I also had fun covering entertainment. I don’t want to do reality shows, but otherwise, I’ll go wherever my career leads me.
Q: What are the main lessons you learned from this experience?
At WVU I learned everything I needed to know, but I was two years out of college, and I just forgot the simplest rule – that every mic is a hot mic. I’m glad it looks like I’ll have a second chance.
Q: What did you learn during at the SOJ that will guide you through this experience and your future?
My professors instilled in me the strength keep going. Mistakes happen; you brush them off and move on. They also taught me that everything you put out should be professional.
Q: Do you have any advice for students who are about to graduate and start the search for their first jobs?
Go out there and start applying. It took me two years, and I didn’t think I was ever going to get a job. You’re going to get the “No”s but all you need is one “Yes.”