Lifestyle Photography

what i learned about going viral

photographer refuses to photograph high school students after she found them bullying students on social media
Written by jenmckenunscripted

Before I even go any further, I just want to point out that for those of you whom are following me and have no clue what I’ll be referring to, this is all in reference to the article/blog post “I won’t shoot ugly people” that I wrote exactly one year ago….the one that went VIRAL!  Now before you go getting your panties in a wad over the title, please take a few minutes to read it. It’s not what you think- I wrote another blog to clarify a few things here!  On a side note: bonus points for anyone who makes it to the end of this post……it’s going to be a long one-sorry! I’m going to keep it real….and I know that after I publish this I’ll think of a million other things…but here goes:

In all honesty, I have no idea where to start because the whole thing happened so fast that when I think back to one year ago, it’s so surreal.  So most of you know that I wrote a blog post that went viral, that I refused to shoot portraits for a group of girls that were being online bullies, and that a lot of social media was covering it….but there’s a lot you don’t know in terms of what was going on in my mind during the whole ordeal! I thought I’d write this post to talk about what I learned about going viral, what happened during all the madness and what it was like for me to be under scrutiny! Disclaimer:  Before the grammar police arrest me, I’m not a writer, I don’t claim to be, I don’t want to be, I probably don’t form proper sentences. I have horrible spelling, awful grammar and downright nasty punctuation and it will probably jump all over the place…but I do promise, I AM college ed-uma-cated! haha! But on a serious note, this place is where none of that matters. This is my little piece of the inter-webber and I can say, spell and punctuate any way I want 🙂

What most people don’t know is that I was contacted by almost EVERY major news source in the United States and a bunch Internationally regarding the issue. I never blogged about it and I never mentioned it but only to my close friends. I mean, Scott Newell, a producer from ABC’s Today’s Show showed up at my studio a few days after it had been viral. There were plans to be on the Anderson Cooper Show, I was contacted by  the Ellen Degeneres Show, Dr. Phil, Inside Edition, Fox and Friends and  Good Morning America…….just to mention a few. They would call and leave voicemail messages trying to get me to commit to be the FIRST on their show, when the I wouldn’t answer my phone, they would call Greg’s phone, when he wouldn’t answer his phone, they’d call my Mom’s. (I’m not even sure how they got Greg and my Mom’s number as they weren’t listed anywhere publicly) It was insane! I knew it was only temporary  and that it would eventually blow over and be “no big deal” but I honestly wanted to run and hide. In some strange way, I felt like I had done something wrong and that the news was after me to publicly ridicule me. I know that wasn’t the case. They simply wanted “the first” interview…..but the problem…and the whole reason, I turned them ALL down? They wanted the names of the girls………something I wasn’t willing to give up. And as some of them were not happy with me for not giving them away, there were a few shows like Anderson Cooper who didn’t care to know the names….but we just couldn’t make our schedules work to for it happen. My obligation was to my wedding clients and flying in and from New York on the available dates they had, left me with a funny feeling of having a delayed flight, etc that would prevent me from getting to the wedding on time. I wasn’t willing to take the chance.

Below is just ONE screen shot of all the news and media outlets that contacted me with interview requests.


The scariest part was that while everything was circulating online, we had a moment (ok many moments) of panic when we couldn’t find Mallory one evening. It was around the same time I was receiving mean and nasty comments, messages, etc that we went to kiss Mallory good night and she wasn’t in her bed. SHEER PANIC as I was going thru all kinds of thoughts and scenarios in my mind of someone taking her and other horrific things. It turns out that she snuck out to the studio while I was editing and fell asleep on the couch, I didn’t hear her come in so when I shut the light out and locked the door, I had no idea she was inside. I think I aged several years that night!

How fast did it happen? Well…
August 17th 2011, I wrote my blog post.
August 18th I received a phone call from Ashley Hardaway with WTAE out of Greensburg. They received an anonymous tip from a caller on their hotline number that mentioned the stand I took. She called to follow up and within a few hours Ashley Hardaway and her camera man arrived at my studio and asked me a few questions regarding my post. That aired locally as a top story during the evening of the 18th.
August 19th, the Huffington Post ran it’s article and then BOOM…by the 20th….it went viral. Had I known it was going to happen, I would have picked a better profile picture. hahaha

Here are just a few of the online headlines….there are hundreds more where these came from.

So with any stand an individual takes, it comes with the good and the bad. With that being said, I received so many incredibly supportive comments in regards to the articles but I also received some “not so nice” comments-usually made by individuals behind fake screen names. I’d be lying if I told you they didn’t bother me, because for a few days they did……but I got a swift kick in the butt from my best friend who came to visit that weekend who reminded me of what’s really important-what I think of myself! Individuals went as far as writing nasty comments on my personal Facebook page and even under family photos with Greg and Mallory in them-again, under fictitious names. I had other fellow photographers on forums stating that the whole thing was a media stunt and I just wanted attention, people claimed I had no reason inserting my morals into my business and I was even accused of being a raciest because I didn’t have a lot of diversity of my blog. A famous author even made a comment along the lines that people like me are why there was  once segration in the south- because I made a decision based on moral judgements…..yeah…I heard it all. I was even compared to the owners of the bridal shop who refused service to a same sex marriage. You can read the entire thread here. AND that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you google Jennifer McKendrick and start reading the news articles, you will see the comments….some of them were hard to swallow.

But for every negative comment I received, a thousand positive ones followed. I stopped reading the comments on news articles, went away with my best friend for the weekend as her “guest” for a wedding in central PA….and danced my little heart out. As all the internet chaos was happening, I was in the middle of the dance floor at someone’s wedding surrounded by people I didn’t know trying out new dance moves…it couldn’t have came at a better time.

When coming back, I had a better grip on everything happening around me and the comments didn’t seem to matter as much……but then the emails started pouring in.  I had expected to get scrutiny for the stand I took but what I didn’t expect was the following….phone calls from teenagers around the country saying thank you, adults contacting me with heart wrenching emails about their encounters as a child and how it still affects them today, emails from individuals who had contemplated committing suicide and that the article gave them a little glimpse of hope,  people offering to pay for the sessions I cancelled, I was contacted by local judges, district attorney’s  and anti-bullying coalitions, someone even wanted to fly me out to a concert to announce the singers….it was crazy!  I just wasn’t prepared to hit a wall of emotions. I remember very vividly just finishing up reading an email from a woman who described her childhood and how it still affects her at age 54. She described it so vividly that the moment Greg came in the room, he looked at me and said, “Are you ok?”. I looked at him and just bawled. “NO……no I’m not! I wasn’t prepared for all of this!”. It was so emotional. I found out who my true friends were in the photography industry….and I found out how incredibly lucky I am to have some amazing colleagues and friends. Some offered to step in to help while things were a bit chaotic….and then there were a few who acted like they were friends and then would post something VERY different on a forums, on their blogs or facebook pages. BOO!..but like I said, I’m SOO VERY FORTUNATE to have amazing colleagues, clients, friends and family!  <3 Not only are there some amazingly supportive photographers but I also was contacted by some of the CEO’s personally from some of the big named companies in our industries.

I had a lot of people ask me about how it affected my fan page. I can’t remember the exact number I started with in terms of “likes” on my fanpage but it was somewhere around 3,500 prior to the article going viral…… ended up topping off around 24,000. A year later it’s lingering around 19,500 but I expect it to drop…but really it’s not that the numbers really matter. I appreciate all the follows and I’ve met some amazing people thru the power of the internet, but most of them are fellow photographers not necessarily potential clients…..but they do sometimes laugh at my bad jokes! haha! I also still have 650 plus friend requests that I still haven’t answered.

People ask me about the girls…….I really don’t have anything new to report. I stuck to my guns and never gave out the names. I’m assuming they were photographed by other photographers or perhaps not-there really is no way for me to tell. I was only ever contacted by two of the four parents who apologized for their daughters behaviors. I didn’t hear back from the other two, but after everything went viral, I’m sure they decided to just keep to themselves. I figure, I received so many nasty comments standing up for something I believed in, I could ONLY imagine what kind of backlash they would have gotten if everyone knew who they were. I wish them the best and I’m sure they learned a lesson or two…not necessarily from me, but from all the attention it received. I’m a believer in the positive so I want to believe that they have made a few changes and are perhaps are bit more compassionate for other people’s feelings.

Other random (awesome) things that have happened…(I know I’m forgetting things)

I was contacted by a WVU student Nicole (heyyy Nicole) who drove several hours to come to PA to use me on one of her photography assignments. We roamed around Blairsville in the rain taking photos using her film camera. haha! It was a great time!

I received thank you letters from the 5th and 6th graders at Long Beach Middle School in New York. I got emails from teachers who were using the article in their classrooms to spark discussion among their students.

I showed up at a senior session for a local teen and after the session was completely finished, she hugged me and thanked me. She said, “I was one of the bullied ones.” I bawled like a baby on the way home.

The big question fellow photographers are wondering (because I’ve been asked a million times) has my business grown from this…..the nutshell version is no. Did this publicity bring me lots of income…! If anything it brought me closer to a tight-knit photography industry. Sure I booked a few clients solely from the article. One couple flew down from Massechuettes, I went to the state of Indiana to shoot a wedding and I’ll be going to Key West in March. My business is doing GREAT but it has nothing to do with the article 🙂

Am I a “rock star” photographer?….BHAHHA! First of all, I HATE that term and second of all, I never want to be a “ROCK STAR” photographer…I just want to be myself!  I’m a small town girl who loves her camera……and nice people! 🙂

Below is an excerpt of an article that was written by Rex Huppke that I’ve always liked. It just makes ya think……

“… she tapped into a sentiment that I believe is revelatory: Most Americans want people to be nice to each other. At a time when the din of fiery discourse coming from narrow swaths of the left and right can drown out everyone in between, McKendrick’s emails saying she won’t do business with mean people managed to make a squeak loud enough to be heard. And that, I believe, shows that most Americans are getting fed up with incivility, whether it’s high schoolers mercilessly blasting each other on Facebook or politicians refusing to move an inch from their ideology as they bicker over the fate of the country’s economy. Over the weekend, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California said at a community summit that the tea party movement “can go straight to hell.” Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry recently implied that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s monetary policies were treasonous and added that “we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.” Every day, right-wing and left-wing pundits mouth off with unnecessary levels of vitriol, engaging in name-calling and fact-bending as if it’s sport. Blogs and Internet comment boards fill up with nastiness spewed from behind the safety of anonymous usernames. And then along comes McKendrick, who takes a simple stand in a small Pennsylvania town and finds herself a spokeswoman for those who would like mean people to, very politely, pipe down…….. “It doesn’t cost money to be nice,” McKendrick said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or how much money you have. It’s a free thing to do. Be nice.” – Rex W. Huppke, Chicago Tribune reporter  (click here to read the article in it’s entirety)

To everyone who disagreed with my decision and left mature comments stating why…I respect you. I said from the beginning I wasn’t expecting everyone to agree with me, it’s what makes the world go round…but I do respect that you have an alternative opinion and that you could express it without name calling, etc. To everyone else who wrote, emailed, commented, called, etc.- thank you for your positive vibes. They mean more than you might ever know…….. 🙂

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