I was minding my own business this week when this email appeared:
“ I am hoping this gets to you since the phone number I had is no longer working and it seems you don’t have a Facebook page, either. Anyway, I want to tell you I am sincerely sorry for my behavior when I worked with you at The Union. It was unprofessional, and I am very sorry for any problems that I caused.”
It got me thinking about my experience at The Union newspaper.
Since I graduated from Northwestern University with a graduate degree in journalism (after my bachelor’s at UC Berkeley), I have only held four jobs: staff writer at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (covering airlines); staff writer and chief technology writer at the S.F. Chronicle covering big business (Chevron, Bechtel, etc.); editor at CNET (a startup that unraveled the “trade publications” and was eventually sold to CBS for $2 billion) and The Union.
Our family moved to Nevada City more than six years ago. We were in “semi-retirement” and wanted to find a place for my parents to wind down their lives. In addition, my wife’s sister lived here, another incentive.
–I never approached The Union for a job. Sally Harris, who then was the financial director at The Union, suggested I write “business stories” for them. Thanks, but I used to interview Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
–Pat Butler, then the Managing Editor of The Union, contacted me about the city editor job. I interviewed, and determined it was going to be a “turnaround.” One of the senior reporters cautioned, referring to his boss: “Please don’t use the newspaper as a bully pulpit.” Meanwhile, Pat accepted another job as Editor of the Fairfield newspaper.
–So Jeff Ackerman offered me the job of Editor over lunch in Nevada City. He complained about how the reporters where not connected to the community and hoped that I could help. The pay was a hair north of $60K, about half of what I earned in the Bay Area.
–I accepted the job, because I figured it would be a good challenge. I never worried about the money, and I respected the pay scales in a tiny town.
–Then while we were down at the Del Mar horse races, Pat called me and asked if I’d be willing to work under him, because he was having second thoughts about the Fairfield job. I said “no,” I already was focused on going forward with the challenge at The Union. It was a weird discussion.
–Indeed The Union was a challenge. It was a dysfunctional organization, to be sure, at least at the time. Lots of infighting and self interest. Pat had fallen behind in his employee reviews, and my first job was to bring them up to date. What fun!
–One memorable experience was when Jeff and The Union’s bean counter asked me to consider dumping the the Associated Press wire service and RL Crabb’s cartoon. They wanted to save money. The poor AP manager drove up from S.F. to meet with me. It was humiliating for him — and me.
I took Crabb to lunch at “Lin Q” buffet (his choice). I recommended to Jeff and the bean counter to keep RL Crabb for that ricuculously low rate — and won that “battle.”
–Another downer was when “Nuke Brunswick” of The Mountain Messenger wrote a “hit piece” about me. I knew who planted the story. It was sad, because my point was a good one: Wondering whether a partisan political rally was being held without renting the space.
I complained to Jeff about he “hit piece,” but he said to ignore it. I trusted him, and I shouldn’t have.
–I thought Jeff was on my side to turn things around at this little community newspaper. But then he turned the table on me: Eliminating the Editor job one Saturday afternoon. Over the years, I had challenged his deference to the “Good Old Boys,” his longterm friends. But I think they deserved scrutiny too.
Jeff offered $40K in severance for eliminating the Editor’s job, but I passed because the “terms” of the document included not candidly discussing my experiences at the newspaper — good and bad. I still have the document.
–Now Jeff has been shipped off to Oregon (deservedly so, I believe), and he writes about the opportunity for “peeing off his porch” at a new home, because of the privacy. Honest. He wrote a column about it. You can’t make this stuff up.
–So here we are with a new publisher, a nicer fellow. On the other hand, he wants to copy my idea for FoodWineArt magazine and launch a monthly product titled “Food Wine Art.” Imitation is the sincerest for of flattery. He could at least say “Thank you.”
So that’s what it’s like to move your family from the “rat race” of the Bay Area and try to build a business here in a tiny town.
We are doing just fine, and we will continue to thrive. But let the buyer beware!
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