This is a soap opera that is currently being played out in similar form at many newspapers around the country as they face imminent collapse. In this case, the melodrama is being played out at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel but it could be happening at any of a number of newspapers. The departure of an employee, one Pat Thompson who was the Deputy Managing Editor, along with a reshuffling of the personnel. This announcement, which was published in Bob Norman's The Pulp of the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, was described by him as "a heavily bureaucratic reshuffling of the deck chairs." What is really fascinating about this blog post is the comments section in which many of the current and former Sun-Sentinel employees voice their frustrations, anger, accusations, and defensiveness. The curtains of the Sun-Sentinel Soap Opera Theater now opens with this comment by "journalista":
I love it when "upper management" shakes up a newsroom or office by moving around people and then totally changing the titles to really goofy words they think sound "modern" or are filled with "changeability." Let me guess, I'd say that it took a handful of SS geniuses maybe two weeks to agree on these titles. No wonder the newspaper business model is crumbling before our very eyes.
Apparently the former Deputy Managing Editor, Pat Thompson, is not missed by "anonymous":
No loss with Pat Thompson, She was a cold, unfriendly meeting-goer who wouldn't even say hello to people in the elevator, let alone become part of the newsroom and lead from the front. Most reporters have no idea who she is, what her duties were and why she merited a six-figure salary for the last five years. I hope she accomplished more than serving to diversify upper mamanagement with her presence. Because, to many of us, that's all she did.
"JP Zenger" chimes in to claim that the anger is misdirected:
Seriously, folks....It's way past time to stop cannibalizing each other. Sure, there are people here and there who you can argue are needed or superfluous and it changes in the eye of the beholder. But one of the terrific things about the business has been how we always had each other's back no matter the situation, especially when things were dark. Yes, we complain and carp about specific people (we, of course, are unassailable paragons), but this kind of public sniping does no one any credit. I'm no Pollyana. I'm as bitter and furious and depressed as anyone out there, but save it for Sam Zell, Tony Ridder, Dennis Fitzsimons, Bruce Sherman and their ilk.
A Pat Thomson defender, "Good Luck Pat," steps up to her defense:
Consider the hand she was dealt coming in. First, she had Rosenhause one step above her. We're talking about someone who routinely demeaned people in news meetings while wrapping herself in the cloak of "diversity." Petty, empty and vindictive, she brought all the passion and grace and understanding that Bin Laden might to your son's Bar Mitzvah. One more rung above her was kindly Uncle Earl, a hack with the intellectual depth and inspirational reach of a soda straw. He probably sees himself, emblazoned with the new single "S" on his chest, leaping from tall buildings to save journalists in a single bound. But you can't fly, Earl. And you're always getting tangled up in the cape. His career achievements can be summed up by a splat on the sidewalk.
At her side, the trustworthy Philip Ward, forever known for his Peter Principle motto: wear beige, shut up, and sit in the back of the room. Damn, the rats really are the last to drown when the ship goes down. Pat could have prospered at any top paper in the country, but she ended up in the management equivalent of one of those trailer park families where everyone's sister is also their wife.
The Rosenhause referred to above was the Sun-Sentinel Diversity Queen, Sharon Rosenhause, the person whose primary job was to ensure newsroom "diversity" of ethnicity and gender but not of opinion which is reliably liberal. "Uncle Earl" refers to the Sun-Sentinel editor, Earl Maucker, who remains befuddled by the web and whose mission in life seems to be to hang in at that newspaper without making waves so he can safely collect his pension. In fact, "El Paso Honcho" makes this accurate observation of "Uncle Earl":
You can bet any memo from Earl "My Hands are Tied" Maucker will be a mush-mouth cluster signifying nothing. Thompson could have been sky blue pink and that wouldn't have helped. Look for more departures soon.
And now, ladies and gentlemen in the audience, a special treat. A cameo appearance on The Daily Pulp blog by Pat Thompson herself, or at least someone claiming to be her:
Hello. This is Pat Thompson. I rarely read this blog, and have never commented on it before, but heard my name had popped up.
Let me set the record straight about a few things: I was hired as a Deputy Managing Editor five and a half years ago. The main areas for which I was responsible as senior editor: business/consumer news, nation/world news, the Sunday paper, the Outlook section and planning newsroom enterprise. A year or so ago, features/entertainment coverage was added to my duties. Each DME supervises several departments, not just one.
I had a great team of editors and reporters. They were relatively small departments, but included some of the top talent in the newsroom, and we did amazing, award-winning work, even after newshole and travel budget cuts. I will miss them, and I wish them all the best.
To Anonymous above who found me cold and unfriendly: I apologize if I didn't speak to you in the elevator. That doesn't sound like me. I always speak to my colleagues whether in the elevator or anywhere else. Maybe I was consumed with trying to solve a problem that day, or frustrated about something, and didn't notice you; there are some metro staffers I don't know well, since I never worked directly with those folks. Or maybe you had done something that annoyed me and instead of smiling at you, I simply mumbled hi. Sorry it bothered you that much.
It's true I'm not fond of chit-chat, and that I like to make decisions quickly and move on, keeping the overall interests of the paper and readers in mind, not just the needs of one person or department. The Sun Sentinel is full of people who have been there for decades; I was hired into a top job from outside, and adjusted to the culture quite well. I loved working there.
The last couple of years have been really tough. We had to make some difficult and unpopular decisions. We lost outstanding journalists to buyouts and layoffs last year - the first layoffs ever in the Sun Sentinel newsroom. The loss of them is evident in the newspaper. More will lose their jobs this year.
Sharon and Earl and my colleagues were always extremely supportive of me and my work. I thank everyone for the kind words, the good wishes and outpouring of support.
Life goes on...
"More will lose their jobs this year?" Not exactly a note of optimism there from Pat. "Me, too" weighs in on Pat's post:
I found Pat very difficult to talk to, as well, and never really knew what she was thinking. Her post above is the longest string of words I've ever gotten out of her, and for her to simply wave it off as "a bad day" is a misrepresentation. Leaders communicate: She didn't do it well...
"Former Floridian," a former Sun-Sentinelian, explains why he is glad he is no longer at that newspaper:
These comments make me especially happy that I'm no longer in the vipers' nest on Las Olas. This popularity contest crap got tired in middle school.
Wanna know why your paper is totally and completely f**ked? Spend less time sniping at each other and go out and do some journalism.
And finally the curtain closes on the Sun-Sentinel Soap Opera Theater with this parting blast from "anonymous":
The problem here, if you haven't noticed, is that many journalists no longer have jobs that allow them to pursue their passion with some sort of financial remuneration. Thirty-six jobs in Orlando are about to be lost. Considering it has the same management as us, and is about the same size, you want to guess how many veteran S-S journalists are about to lose their jobs in a week or two? All newspapers are suffering in this economy. The ones with bad management, both editorial and business, are collapsing. The Sun-Sentinel, once among the most profitable newspapers in the U.S., is one of those doomed to fail. Who do you blame? The business side has to take a huge hit, of course, for resting on its laurels for many years and only catering to the easy advertisers of real estate, cars and department stores. But you also have to look at the stupendous decline of the newspaper under the stewardship of Earl Maucker. The Sun-Sentinel increased its circulation every year under Gene Cryer until he opposed publisher Scott Smith's budget-cutting plans and got fired for his efforts. Earl became editor by promising not to follow in the footsteps of Gene. As Smith cut back on costly community journalism, circulation leveled and then began to plunge. In the short term, it didn't matter because profits increased. Now, however, it turns out that community journalism would have been the saviour of the Sun-Sentinel. Only the extremely local newspapers are thriving these days. These senior editors are getting a deserved bashing because they did nothing to right the course of the ship, despite getting huge salaries to chart the course. I feel no sorrow for people who made 150K a year plus bonuses and did nothing but show up at meetings. Sure, maybe they checked the right boxes with gender and ethnic origin. Maybe they were even considered nice people by their friends. But they were paid that kind of money to be leaders who made a major difference. Did Pat Thompson do that? Judging by the comments here, no. Philp Ward? He learned early on that he could keep his job by being a henchman instead of a leader. Rosenhause? Her preference was to promote women, gays and minorities, in that order, and rid the newsroom of evil white men. People who lose their jobs have a right to be angry at those whose incompetence, complacency and bias helped bring on those layoffs.
Yes, this particular soap opera is being played out at the Sun-Sentinel but similar melodramas are currently being performed at many other newspapers. Twilight of the Clods.