I swung by the office Saturday after a refreshing swim and found our publisher in the office with his son. He had said he wanted to meet with me. “Hey, what’s up?” I asked after he walked into my office. “We’re eliminating your position,” he responded. Oh.
Jeff A. (you know, the other Jeff) said it was purely a financial decision. He said it had nothing to do with performance; in fact, he said I had improved the paper since he hired me (despite the economic challenges we faced), and he thanked me for that. (My performance reviews said the same thing).
Jeff said he now is going to be the Editor (managing the news coverage) and the Publisher (managing the business) of The Union for economic reasons. Being a stickler for “conflicts of interest” (you know, the “watchdog” stuff we’ve written about at the paper), I expressed some skepticism that he could wear both hats. But Jeff vowed it could be done.
Jeff had been filling in as the interim advertising director for months (a more natural fit for a Publisher in my mind), but he has hired someone to fill that post who he thinks can make it a success.
It’s a very tough market and a tough job, even for a Publisher. (Jeff came up the ranks on the news side, not the business side). Jeff said he couldn’t afford both positions (Editor and the incoming Ad Director) at this time. It was painful to hear that, but I accepted it. We had a very professional conversation. We chatted, shook hands and left on good terms.
This was sad personally, because I had looked to Jeff as a business partner and friend. I trusted him implicitly too, since he encouraged our news coverage (positive and negative) and regularly suggested stories. Coverage that might be seen as negative (at least to the subjects), including investigative reporting, sometimes can ruffle feathers in a small town. But Jeff had been supportive (and often suggested topics).
Still, newspapers are undergoing rapid structural change, we’re in a deep recession and Jeff faces some tough challenges as a businessman. I hope The Union continues both its “watchdog” and “celebration” role as far as journalism goes. As a resident and homeowner with a school-aged child (AKA major stakeholder), we need both.
We have a lot to celebrate here but also some important issues that can’t be swept under the rug. (You know, the ones we’ve written about in the paper and some of my columns — meth/crime, conflicts of interest in a small town, holding elected officials accountable, transparency in public decision-making, good fiscal management, etc.)
As you know, we also celebrate the community — the “economic bright spot” bug featuring positive news was one of my ideas. I also have worked with county executive officer Rick Haffey to regularly run Other Voices from Rood Center leaders and law enforcement — explaining their outlook on things. The latest one (running this 1/18, in fact) was from the public defender.
I really didn’t want to write this because it is personal. I also like Jeff A. and “feel his pain.” But around here, rumor/misinformation fills the void of accurate information and becomes “truth” (AKA small town gossip). It can get downright nasty. I hope that changes sometime.
I’ll also be blogging here from time to time: focusing on the pragmatic local issues that our community’s true “stakeholders” worry about. We need more bloggers who want to engage in a fact-based dialogue, not political rhetoric.
My family and I wish you well and thank you for your encouraging and thoughtful words during the past 28 months — at work or around town. You’ll see us around town, including with our “red” lab puppy.