The ‘Hunger Games’ of journalism

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 05:29 AM

An interesting story started to get some traction last week and has since picked up some steam out of Kansas City, Mo.

The Kansas City Star, a major metropolitan newspaper, announced another round of layoffs last week that included some in their once-prolific newsroom.

Painful, yet seemingly very simple, right?

Then again ...

According to media blogger Jim Romenesko, The Star pulled aside two of its reporters, Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann and told them both that they would be making the decision as to which one of the two would be left without a job.

Dillon recently confirmed the report in an email to NBC News and did not provide any more details to the story. According to NBC News, she has been an investigative journalist with the paper since 1991.

On the other hand, Bormann did not respond to any requests for information but, according to KC Confidential, a blog that covers Kansas City issues, she will be leaving the company.

During this recent round of layoffs, The Star’s publisher Mi-Ai Parrish confirmed that the paper was cutting its workforce by approximately 17 positions.

As someone who has been in the newspaper industry for quite sometime, I can tell you that the approach used by The Star in this situation is unheard of.

Also, as someone who has been in management at a newspaper, I can also say that a decision like this would not, and should not be made by the employees that are involved.

Initially, the report of the action made me sick.

Sick in the sense that our profession has seen turnover after turnover at newspapers across the country, leaving very good journalists out of jobs.

But, it also bothered me because of the approach.

Anyone who is a manager, no matter what the profession, can tell you that there is an increased amount of responsibility with the position. Otherwise, why have managers at all?

But, in addition, I think what The Star has done has set a very dangerous tone in the media industry.

It is tough enough working in a profession where you have a tendency to look over your shoulder for any number of reasons. Looking over your shoulder because of a fellow teammate just adds to the potential for disaster.

Now, it goes without saying that The Star has taking its fair share of blasting within the journalism community for this course of action.

I have to ask myself: Who made the decision to conduct a layoff like this? What was the thought process for this? Who was not “man” enough to handle that business themselves?

Granted, it is a tough decision to make, but leaders gain the respect and trust of their employees when they make those tough decisions and do so with fairness.

This was certainly not the case in Kansas City where those reporters in the newsroom look with an upturned brow each and every time they are asked to do something by management.

And, as someone who has sat in the newsroom for a number of years, I can’t say that I blame them for having that reaction.

We should be professional in our actions, but this takes the profession to a whole new low.

 

Matthew Clark is the Editor of The Daily Courier. He can be reached at 828-202-2927 or emailed at mclark@thedigitalcourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @UMass_MClark