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A Nebraska journalist got fired over gathering signatures for an abortion ban

Abortion Ban Photo 1.jpg
Austin Refior
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Flatwater Free Press
The sign at the entrance to Curtis, one of the six small Nebraska towns where voters will decide on a local abortion ban on Election Day. The Curtis City Council decided against putting a ban in place last year, when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. This year, a group led by a Texas pastor and local volunteers ran a successful petition drive to push the issue onto the November ballot.

A North Platte television news director was fired by her station for helping collect signatures for a ballot initiative to ban abortions in the neighboring town of Curtis.

A television news director from western Nebraska will clean out her desk Monday night after the station fired her over the weekend for helping collect signatures for a ballot initiative to ban abortions in the neighboring town of Curtis.

The vice president and general manager of KNOP, a NBC affiliate, in North Platte confirmed Melanie Standiford was fired for violating company policies on Friday – the same day the Flatwater Free Press quoted Standiford about a petition drive in Curtis.

Standiford, 50, and a mother of nine, said she didn’t report on the specific ballot initiative. However, a review of KNOP's website shows Standiford reported on the issue multiple times.

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Melanie Standiford
/
Courtesy photo
Melanie Standiford had worked at KNOP for five years and had been the news director since 2021.

“The lady that does the anti-abortion prayer chain in North Platte, Nebraska, said to me: ‘I thought you were pro-choice,’” Standiford said. "Everybody in North Platte thought I was pro-choice because I was so balanced and so careful to make sure that I never showed anything but that. I was very fair.”

Curtis, a town of around 800 people in Southwest Nebraska’s Frontier County, will vote to ban abortion this November. Standiford collected signatures for the ballot initiative at her church.

She told the Flatwater Free Press that everyone in Curtis knew Standiford was a Christian and anti-abortion. In her mind, the Curtis ordinance would be so widely supported that it wouldn’t be controversial.

The Flatwater Free Press also asked Standiford about her involvement with the petition and how that impacts her coverage as a news director.

“You’re probably right, I probably, maybe shouldn’t have even done that,” she said. “But who knew it would be an issue?”

Curtis, also home to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, is one of six towns where voters will determine the fates of local abortion bans, although some legal experts question the effort’s impact on abortion access.

The North Platte Bulletin reported and social media posts indicate there were some North Platte-area residents who objected to Standiford’s firing and gathered outside the station’s building on Monday.

Shannon Booth, the KNOP vice president and general manager, said in a statement that Standiford has been fired and she wishes the best for her.

“KNOP can confirm that our long-standing company policy encourages civic involvement among our employees, so long as such activities do not give the appearance of interfering with journalistic impartiality,” Booth said in a statement. “In furtherance of that qualification, KNOP’s news personnel are not permitted, at any time and regardless of beliefs, to actively engage in any political activity for any candidate, party, or ballot initiative.”

Promoted to the news director role in 2021, Standiford had worked for KNOP for five years. Standiford said she’s been contacted by lawyers and is deciding what to do next. In the meantime, she said she worried about the newsroom.

“I planned on anchoring the news and producing the news on Saturday and Sunday because I let one of my employees have the weekend off,” she said.

In her eyes, she was able to separate her personal beliefs and professional life. She also said she didn’t force anyone else to sign the petition – she just merely presented the option.

“This wasn't me saying vote this way,” she said. “This wasn't me trying to influence anybody.”

Will Bauer joined Nebraska Public Media in 2021 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He now produces the statewide TV talk show "Speaking of Nebraska" and is a general assignment reporter. Will is a Minnesota native, enjoys golfing in his free time and holds three undergraduate degrees.