Fight the powerBy Wade Kwon
The power of the press is a mighty tool, for right or for wrong. Six editors and a columnist at one newspaper quit their jobs over a growing dispute with the publisher of the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press.
Thatâ€™s a bloodbath.
I know editors. Most would stick it out under the worst conditions, because theyâ€™re a stubborn lot. They want to grind out the news, even with small staffs and tight deadlines and no newshole. Theyâ€™d rather prove a boss wrong just to piss him off than give in and let him win.
So to resign after decades, to walk out on principle, is no small feat. I know, because Iâ€™ve done it before.
Publishers are a quirky lot, and sometimes, itâ€™s a required trait to keep afloat in a dying industry. But itâ€™s a violation of journalistic ethics for the publisher to unduly interfere in day-to-day news operations, or to violate the â€œwallâ€ between news and editorial, or news and advertising.
All a newspaper has is its credibility.
Early in my career, I worked at a small community newspaper. At times, I didnâ€™t see eye to eye with the publisher, but I always argued my point, then carried out his decision. My boss didnâ€™t see eye to eye with him all the time either, but their working relationship seemed to be manageable.
The publisher fired her the day after Christmas. No warning, no explanation.
And he had every right. People usually have the right to do very mean, unfair and illogical things.
I was in an ethical dilemma. My job was not at stake, but I thought her dismissal was a shabby way to carry out a personal grudge. She was a good boss and a personal friend. And now, I had to decide if I would take the offer to be promoted to her position.
She didnâ€™t ask me to do anything on her behalf. She could have, but she didnâ€™t. She even told me to consider taking the promotion.
Sometimes, doing the right thing is a gut call. In my case, it was all too real. My stomach was in knots every day.
I resigned three days later. On principle.
I couldnâ€™t work for someone who would let his personal feelings upend the operation. Certainly, if he could fire her on a whim, I could be dismissed at any point, too.
Who wants to work in that environment?
Needless to say, she and I both had no jobs, no prospects and a lousy New Yearâ€™s. Principles are great and all, but you canâ€™t eat them.
It was tough for awhile. We struggled through odd jobs before landing suitable new jobs. Years later, she even opened the door for me to get a job at her newspaper.
I take comfort that I can and did follow my principles, even though it meant starting over. But my body wouldnâ€™t let me do the wrong thing â€” I felt it unmistakably in my gut.
As for that newsroom in Santa Barbara, those left behind are in a difficult situation. If you have kids to feed, student loans to pay, you canâ€™t always quit on principle. But how I admire those editors for taking a stand. Godspeed to those who stood up to a warped publisher bent on destroying the newspaperâ€™s public trust.