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Times-Dispatch Kills Staff Forum

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Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter and columnist Mark Holmberg says his posting on the company's internal message board last week was the first time in about two years he's used the online forum to share thoughts and concerns with co-workers.

Now the message board — what T-D staff call the "water cooler" — is no more. Last week executives suspended the intranet forum, however coincidentally, a day after Style Weekly published a July 12 cover story, "Truth and Consequences," which detailed considerable anxiety at the paper since a new publisher and editor took charge.

In his posting, Holmberg pointed to First Amendment rights — freedom of speech and press — after identifying himself publicly as the unnamed "star reporter" referenced in the Style cover story. (He had expressed an interest in being interviewed by Style, but T-D management denied his request.)

The newspaper's staff is under a gag rule: Reporters and editors may not comment on the T-D without obtaining permission from the publisher or executive editor, according to a "Media Policy" memo revised Dec. 13 and obtained by Style.

The memo instructs staff that if they are approached for interviews, they are to ask the reporter to submit questions in writing, and then follow a five-step approval process that includes the promotion manager, the publisher and a "strategy for responding." (For the full text of the policy, go to www.styleweekly.com.)

According to phone calls and e-mails to Style from T-D insiders who asked that their names be withheld, employees learned at a newsroom meeting last week that the online message board was being shut down. When they returned to their desks it was gone.

"It's an internal issue, and we're not going to comment on it," says Frazier Millner, promotion manager for the T-D. "That's all I'm going to say."

Some employees interpret this latest move by management as an infringement of freedom of speech. Where employees were simply frustrated before, the messages relay, they are now "pissed off" and "stunned."

Since the creation of the company Intranet more than a decade ago, the "water cooler" has been a venue whereby T-D newsroom staff could openly praise or pick apart each other's work and offer comments on issues of interest.

Employees say they'll look for other forums to express themselves, shifting internal conversations elsewhere. Meanwhile, one reporter notes the irony of the print business and the former message board that now reads: "Page not available." S



Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch Media Policy below.



Media Policy

(Revised Dec. 13, 2005)

Any comment or statement about, or mention of, the newspaper or business must be cleared by the publisher or in newsroom issues by the executive editor. Below is the course of action to obtain this approval in cases involving The Times-Dispatch and Media General Inc.:

A) Calls from external and internal (Times-Dispatch, Virginia Business or TimesDispatch.com) media regarding The Times-Dispatch.

When you receive a call from internal or external reporters with questions or requests for information or interviews concerning The Times-Dispatch, indicate that you will get back to them with your comments. Ask for a list of questions in writing.

Actions:

1) Call the promotion manager at 649-6085. If the promotion manager is unavailable, call the marketing manager at 649-6641. If neither is available, contact Business Manager at 649-6613 or the Executive Editor at 649-6265.

2) Provide detailed information about the nature of the inquiry, including the name of the publication, date of publication, nature of the questions, and anticipated discussion points.

3) We will gather information, formulate a response and a strategy for responding.

4) The information will be approved or revised by the Publisher throughout the process.

5) Questions about news coverage will continue to be handled by the Executive Editor, with the Publisher in the loop. Any requests to interview reporters or editors, or involve journalists on broadcast programs must be cleared by the Executive Editor.

B) Calls from external and internal media regarding Media General Inc.:

Any calls should be referred to and cleared by Vice President of Corporate Communications Lou Anne Nabhan at 649-6103.

If questions will be read by analysts or investors, refer them to Lou Anne Nabhan at 649-6103.

Trade Press:

Questions about Media General corporate issues, sensitive matters or subjects that affect multi-properties should be referred to Lou Anne Nabhan at 649-6103.

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