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what I learned about going viral | jen mcken, photographer

By August 16, 2012 27 Comments

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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  • I remember following this and always tearing up. I was bullied as a child/teen/and young adult. I was even spit on once when I was in 5th grade when I was getting off the bus.

    I clapped when I read your first blog. I was so proud of you and still am! Good luck!!!!

  • Faith Purkiser says:

    Jen, I was “introduced” to your photography through a friend’s FB post of your blog shortly after, or around the time it went crazy…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing your world through your photographs and think you are simply fantastic, as a person and a photographer!
    I wish more people could see as clearly as you did why it was important for you to stand up about the issue of bullying and being NICE in general.
    I love your jokes, BTW, and look forward to seeing what great things the future brings you! And if I’m ever in PA, I’ll be getting a hold of you for a session 🙂
    Best of luck!

  • Karen Martin says:

    I totally applaud you for it. I’m so tired of the suck it up and be nice since you’re getting paid mentality. And it makes me sick when people put money before morals. The moral of this story, is that it didn’t change the awesome person you are. Hopefully, people learned from you also that integrity and professionalism comes before $ and fame. And I have to be honest that it’s why I contacted and love having you on my media feeds because you know what Jen? You rock! (not in the rock star kinda way though, since that’s not what you’re going for). If we all did things because it’s the right thing to do, then the world would be a better place. Keep it up woman! Ha ciau! Karen

  • I’m so proud of you and thankful for your words. You’re amazing, let the naysayers be negative – just keep on shining like the star you are (not a rock star though, right? Bahaha!).

  • Jen,

    Thank you for sharing your update. I still applaud you and your conviction. I applaud you even more for NOT giving out those names. Nothing good would have come from it and I think that in this world of instant access, online bullying has become all too prevalent…especially in the world of photography.

    Bravo Jen. One year later, bravo.


  • If we can’t run our business by our morals, then how should we run it? That’s the problem with the world today… no morals. Thank you for sticking up for yours.

    I’ll admit, when I first read the tagline of the previous blog, thoughts of bullying and weightism haters came to mind. As a person that has been bullied, and still affects me to this day as well, when I read something like “I won’t shoot ugly people” I jump to conclusions and get angry. But after reading that blog and then this one, I am in awe. I honestly had never read or heard anything about this. I don’t really watch the news lol, too depressing. But I can honestly say, GOOD FOR YOU! Stand up for your beliefs, whatever they may be.

    I may not agree with Chick-Fil-A’s stance against gay marriage, but by God, they got the right to run the business any which way they should want to, and shouldn’t be persecuted for it. Same for you… at least you have morals to stand by. I wish some other folks on this sad, sad, planet could have some. God bless ya hon. As a fellow photographer, I know it’s hard to run a business. Heck, it’s hard enough just to get a job in the industry, especially now that everyone with an iPhone calls themselves professionals LOL! But I wish you all the best!

  • Hannah says:

    You have NOOOOOOOOOOOOO idea how much I appreciate this post 😉

  • Goldie Williams says:

    Jen, it’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already. I will say that after that one night of reading your blog, I have put more effort into my photography, taking and teaching. I’ve followed everything that you post and what you do is truly inspiring! Being here on this island of Terciera, Azores, everyone with a DSLR swears that they are the island’s “hottest” photogs! All I can do is let them do what they think they can do and do my best to be cordial when they ask, “Why does this pic look like this?” I study your shots a lot, looking at your composition, lighting, etc. Soon, I’ll be leaving this little island and PCS’ing to Idaho (pray for me!) and trying to see what the photography scene is like there! Congratulations on a great year and may you have many many more to come!!

  • Mary says:

    A friend of mine forwarded your post about not photographing “ugly” people….. I started following you and have been a fan ever since! I love your images and thoroughly enjoy all your posts! Keep it up 🙂

  • I first heard of you through AOL news. As a photographer myself, I stood by your choice and understood where you were coming from, completely. Although I was bullied as a child, my support for you did not stem from the torment that I had received… instead it came from something that some people lack, unfortunately- and that is morals.
    You did the right thing. I’m so proud and happy that there are people out there in the world like you.

  • Jessica Ellis says:

    Jen, you are an amazing person! I am so thankful that I came across your viral article and discovered you 🙂 I will always be your fan! As a photographer myself I understand the scrutiny and decisions you have to face. Kudos to you for standing up for what you believe in! P.S. I ALWAYS love your jokes 😉

  • Mindy Rolle says:

    Way to go for sticking up for what you believe in… And standing your ground. I wish there were more people like you in this world. My son was being bullied last year around the time I found you through your post. Your post gave me some hope, unfortunately sometimes schools just don’t do enough to stop bullies… Thank you for standing up and speaking out – for my son and anyone else who has ever been bullied.

  • Becky Mohr says:

    I am sure you will never know how many people were affected in a positive way because of your actions and words. I imagine many people are paying it forward by speaking up now, because of your example. Mnay blessings to you!

  • This was a wonderful read and a wonderful story. I love that you were principled in one way, then in another. It’s hard finding people like that; I married someone like that with a story to tell, media hounding her, and she kept her mouth shut. You’re both special people; way to go!

  • LauraRS says:

    Jen – Your beauty took my breath away a year ago. Your courage still brings a tear to my eye! Thank you for this look back a year later. I was one of the ones that bumped you up to 24K fans. I have to say, I still look forward to every one of your posts. The world needs more people who can touch the world with humor and love! Keep at it girl!

  • Chris says:

    I said it a year ago, and I’ll say it again: you’re brilliant, and the world needs more people like you. 🙂

  • Vicki Smith says:

    Jen, I started “following” you after reading the original post last year. My parents lived in Indiana, PA for 17 years (after I was grown), so I know the town well. I was not only bullied as a child, but have been bullied recently by an adult who never learned better. Knowing there are wonderful people like you out there, who will continue to live their values in their work life as well as their personal lives, gives me hope for the world. Your photographs are amazing! If I lived nearer, I would DEFINITELY come to you for any photography needed! You go, girl! And btw, you and Greg and Mallory make a great family!

  • Jen, thank you so much for the original blog posting and again for the follow-up one. I join the ranks of people who applaud you for standing up for what u believe in the face of whatever comes after. You stayed true to yourself and business or no business that it to be complimented as that’s the way it SHOULD be. I heard about your posting and at once became a fan, have stayed and will continue to stay as such. There are very few fellow photographer’s I follow regularly but am proud to say you are at the top of my list! Continue to be fabulous and inspirational! Also, on a side note – do you ever do seminar’s or mentoring?

  • Cherie says:

    Not only are you beautiful on the outside, but you are beautiful on the inside as well. My emotions are overflowing as tears trickle down my face… Again! You stood up against bullies and you did it with integrity. You showed such courage to do what others are too timid to do. You showed compassion and selflessness. I wish the world would follow your example, not only against bullies, but in every day life. You have conviction and you didn’t sway from your character no matter what carrot was dangled in front of you. You stood up for your morals nation wide! I am so glad you are a citizen of our little community! You brighten our little corner of SW PA! 😉 Stay true to your values. As for the few that have ruffled feathers, As Winston Churchill says, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Being anti-bully is an honorable thing to stand up for! <3

  • Mary N says:

    Thank you Jen. I became a fan after stumbling upon your blog last year. I can’t remember where I found it, but it really hit home, because I am one of the many who got bullied and picked on growing up. I also emailed you after reading it to commend you and tell you how I could relate and am so happy there are people like you around. Thanks again for replying by the way! I still remember telling you my major and how much I enjoy photography to find out that you majored in the same field! Keep up the awesome work!!!
    PS I read the whole post. Yay for extra points

  • Cara says:

    Jen –

    I was one of the ones who found you through the viral firestorm and have been a faithful follower ever since. I too am one of the bullied. Not from your girls, but from others when I was in school. It still affects me, but I’m learning.

    I hope to win the lottery some day so you can come photograph MY wedding. I want to be beautiful through the lens of a beautiful person. Thanks for shouldering all the good, bad, and ugly!

  • stacey says:

    i finally have had a chance to read this. it is as incredible for me to read as was your initial post. congratulations to your mom for raising a daughter with terrific strong morals and respect enough still for people that you refused to release the girls names. it would have been very easy to let the names fly – but you didn’t and by doing that have given the girls a path to redemption. as mom myself – i can appreciate both how your mom must feel and the wonderful example you are for mallory 🙂
    have a terrific weekend!!!!!

  • […] *** updated 8/16/12: One year later, what I learned about going viral: […]

  • Sarah says:

    Just read all of these posts together and wanted to say that I loved that you were able to stand up for your principles, and then stay with them through all of the ensuing madness! It’s really tough when you make a stand for something and then the whole world seems to think it’s ok to judge you for it, so well done for hanging in there!

  • […] to be thankful for that I often times don’t know where to start. A couple years ago when I went “viral”, my name was plastered all over the web, covered by national (and international) news stations and […]

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