Take This Job and Shove It
An attempt by the Gazette in Colorado Springs to micromanage a reporter’s personal Facebook page backfires badly. Thurs., June 21, 2012.
By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (firstname.lastname@example.org) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.
Good for Barrett Tryon. He told his bosses at the Gazette in Colorado Springs to take this job and shove it.
Tryon is the reporter who got in trouble for posting news about the recent sale of Freedom Newspapers, owner of the Gazette, on his personal Facebook account.
Freedom, which owns seven daily papers, including the Orange County Register, was sold earlier this month to an investment group called 2100 Trust LLC. Tryon's sin was posting an article about the sale from the Los Angeles Times and highlighting this passage:
"The new owner hopes to spin off the smaller papers in separate deals by the end of the summer to help finance the purchase of the Register, according to an editor at the paper who was not authorized to speak publicly. These are the Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville, Calif.; the Desert Dispatch in Barstow; the Porterville (Calif.) Record; the Daily Press in Victorville; and the Sun in Yuma, Ariz."
Tryon's post didn't go over too well with Carmen Boles, the Gazette's director of content. She told Tryon to delete it because it violated the paper's social media policy. The policy "prohibits you from posting disparaging or defamatory statements about the company or its business interests, but you should also avoid social media communications that might be misconstrued in a way that could damage the company's goodwill and business reputation, even indirectly."
The reporter refused, on the grounds that the post was on his personal account, and besides, it was an article from a newspaper, not a scurrilous attack on the company. He e-mailed Boles the following, according to JimRomenesko.com: "Not trying to cause a ruckus, but I posted a news story and included a quote from the article. I did not interject any opinion. I'm not sure where I'm violating policy."
For his defiance, Tryon was placed on administrative leave by the paper.
Not surprisingly, the flap attracted a great deal of attention on media news aggregators. And much of the reaction was supportive of the reporter, not the paper.
This week, the Gazette did a 180, reinstating Tryon. But it was too late. The damage had been done. Tryon, quite understandably, decided that this was hardly the kind of management he wanted to work for. And so he resigned.
"I think after I realized there was support from so many people locally and nationally that I'm not really interested in working for an organization [where] we would even have this conversation; that there was never a dialogue to begin with — and that's unfortunate," he told the Colorado Springs Independent's Indy Blog.
Tryon took to Twitter to quote the great Gotye, dismissing the Gazette as merely "somebody I used to know."
The episode is a classic example of bad management, of an unforced error. Boles' ham-handed overreaction subjected her newspaper to well-earned ridicule.
And it's yet another illustration of an unfortunate newspaper tradition. For years, papers, with far too few exceptions, have tried to micromanage the way they cover themselves, to soft-pedal the bad news, to act in ways that would outrage them if a newsmaker tried to pull similar stunts.
Trouble is, in these transparent times, things don't stay secret very often, and the fallout is often far more severe than any possible consequences of simply reporting the truth.
Just ask Greg Osberg, the chief executive of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com, who meddled in coverage of the company's prospective sale, then denied it to the New York Times, which ran a prominent story on the affair. Once the company was sold, Osberg was collateral damage as the new owners kicked him to the curb.