Richmond Times-Dispatch management shut down "Water Cooler," the newsroom's internal online message board and critique page, in July after columnist Mark Holmberg posted comments critical of T-D management.
Last week, Holmberg who is leaving the paper and will report for CBS 6 marked his last day by reminding his bosses that they hadn't shut down "Kitchen Sink," the newsroom's intranet "stuff for sale" page. His parting shot was posted Jan. 1 at 12:25 a.m. It was removed later that day.
Journalism for sale or rent?
As you well know, newspapers across the country are going through a fair amount of turmoil. Print news reporting is slowly dying as technology races forward. And, as with anything that's dying, there's a lot of flailing around, expense and heroic measures near the end of life.
That's to be expected.
If newspapers are going to prolong their existence, I'd argue they need to stick with what sets them apart from TV, tabloids and the Internet: Deeper, more complete, unbiased, unfiltered and compelling looks at the news and newsmakers.
Obviously, we have to march quickly toward web news. But we must not sacrifice the deep look for the quick hits. To do so is the equivalent of suicide for our print operation.
In the past year we've seen all kinds of walls come down: The wall between news and editorial, the wall between news and marketing, news and circulation, news and advertising. News and HR.
Not good. Does this mean we have news for sale or rent? Perhaps not yet. But the walls coming down make it more likely.
It's all happening bit by bit. Death by a thousand cuts. We put up with each little affront, thinking that will be it, wondering if our paychecks are more important than one little slap at the Fourth Estate.
But each affront must be confronted. When Water Cooler was pulled down, we should've crashed editor meetings until it was put back up. Kitchen Sink should have been flooded. If that got pulled down, we should've written our views on paper and posted them in the commons. Or spray painted them in the carpet.
We cannot withstand one or two people controlling the news in our city via silo management.
If you're asked to produce a news story, edit it, photograph it or page design it to fit a management agenda not based on news events (say a forum about customer service or I-journals), you can call in sick, pull your byline, refuse.
If you'll follow the small orders to bend the news, what's next?
You, as newspaper folk, are the key guardians of free speech. You are the front line. Not only do you write the first draft of history (and often, the only draft), you keep the First Amendment healthy by constantly exercising it. Our country cannot afford to have you hiding in the trenches.
There's a reason why our nation's first and best-loved superheroes were journalists.
Been nice working with you to quote Harry Stamper: Never give an inch. S