The Best, Brightest - and Likeliest to Leave
Old and in the way. The Portland Press Herald, faced with declining revenues and increasing expenses, is offering its workers a "voluntary separation plan," according to a story in the June 10 edition.
But how voluntary is it? The company has already announced plans to cut 35 positions by July 1, including an unspecified number in the newsroom, either through this program or with layoffs. Two experienced journalists at the paper told me they're seriously considering accepting the voluntary deal, which includes a severance-pay package, because they fear the consequences of staying on.
Even though these reporters are union members, which means they're safe from layoffs because of their seniority, they're afraid that if they remain, their schedules and assignments will change in ways designed to make their lives miserable.
"I don't want to spend the next five years covering ribbon-cuttings and writing thumb suckers," said one reporter.
The Press Herald story contains only a vague reference to the issue of forcing out veteran staff to save money. It quotes Maryland newspaper analyst John Morton as saying of layoffs and other personnel cuts, "It's not a wise move in the long run," because it reduces quality, driving away more readers.
At a paper where the institutional memory is already clouded, losing the most experienced reporters may save money in the short term, but, hey, the short term is all anybody can remember, anyway.
Ethics don't get in the way. Readers of the June 8 Portsmouth Herald raised both eyebrows and objections to an opinion piece written by Nancy Cicco, an editor at the paper. Cicco discussed her experiences as a delegate to the Maine Democratic state convention. "As I am no longer a beat reporter," she wrote, "I have the leeway to abandon reporters' long-held `I have to remain neutral' stance to say I attended the convention not foremost as a reporter but as a state delegate for Obama. Formerly registered as an independent, I am one of those voters we keep reading about this campaign season who have `crossed over' for their candidate."
In e-mails to me and in online postings, several people questioned whether an editor was any less subject to rules about avoiding bias and conflict of interest. But that doesn't seem to be a problem in Cicco's case. She's now the editor for the Herald's "special publications," niche sections dealing with distinctly nonpolitical topics.
"Basically, her coverage domain is home and garden," said executive editor Howard Altschiller. "The stories she's assigning are like how to remake your kitchen."
As for Cicco, she has no regrets about going public with her Democratic bent. "I discussed three times with my boss," she said. "I understand the dilemma, but this was something I felt compelled to do."
The only criticism to be leveled here is at the Herald for its failure to include a sufficient disclaimer with the piece, at least in the version on the paper's Web site, making it clear that Cicco's current duties are unlikely to influence the paper's political coverage.
Meaning doesn't get in the way. Headline in the sports section of the June 10 Bangor Daily News: "Sox prospect honoring thy father."
I didn't know any Sox prospects knew my father.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.