Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gag Order For Milwuaukee Journal Sentinel Staff?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently noted that it would be reducing newsroom staff to cut expenses (Without, as far as can be determined any cuts in the pay of its publisher or other top executives). Local Professor and blogger Jessica McBride, once fired by that newspaper, as asserted that those employees accepting such a buy-out were subject to a "gag order" and contractual condition for that arrangement. Below you will find my letter as to that issue and Ms. McBride's blog entry.




I have previously noted my approval of your "Community Columnists" program; But, have also pointed out the need to have some of those persons who will, without editing on your part, actively and even furiously attack the editorial positions, reporting standards and publication practices of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

If there is even an iota of fact underling Ms. Jessica McBride's report of the possible "gag orders" imposed on those of your employees who accepted a "buy out" departure from your employment (Which may or may-not be enforceable in a court-of-law as such severely attacks personal protections under the Bill Of Rights, which protections "trump" contract provisions and which perhaps "violate public policy"), then that is one more reason you need such very contrary community columnists as per my suggestion.

Any, if any, such censoring of past (Or, present) employees smacks of the Pravda or Izvestia that were or the New York Times that is---And weakens your positions on "open govenment", of which governments all newspapers are the "Fourth Estate" AND, indirectly, weakens your positions on all issues.

Respectfully submitted,
James Pawlak


Journal Communications' alleged gag order
Don't expect to see a blog soon from Whitney Gould et al. I'm told that Journal Communications demanded that the journalists who took the "buy out" recently must sign gag orders if they wanted the money. I'm told the individuals who took the buy out had to sign documents promising to never say anything derogatory about the newspaper again. I haven't seen the actual verbiage, so I'm only going on what I heard from a person who actually took the "buy out" and described the limitation that way. I'm not naming that person for obvious reasons. The person said that he/she now could never say anything derogatory about the paper again. He/she said this in a public forum.

Probably, the company can do this under the law. If people wanted the freedom to criticize the newspaper, I suppose they could have just quit without taking the monetary settlement (I left the paper that way. I left, voluntarily, without any buy out in place to take a job at UWM, so I never was asked to sign a gag order, nor could they have compelled me to do so.) So, technically no one forced these folks to sign a gag order. At the same time, this strikes me as a rather hypocritical position for a media/information company to take, when that same company is always crusading about the First Amendment, free speech, and public disclosure.

I guess Journal Communications only values free speech when the newspaper isn't being criticized. They probably don't want any more former employees to create blogs. Like mine. Or Gretchen Schuldt's. Well, that one they might not mind. Same goes for Jim Rowen's. (I wonder how long it is before they stop current employees from criticizing the company? Maybe they already have. After all, I got fired for criticizing a JS columnist.)

Frankly, one wonders why the newspaper is so thin-skinned. No powerful institution should fear criticism of itself. Learn from some of it. Reject some of it. Many newspapers have public editors or ombudsmen because they recognize that they won't get it right all of the time, and they correctly believe that they should be held accountable for it.

Update: I just noticed another blogger is naming the individual. I was at the forum in question, and even though another media outlet is also doing so, I'm still choosing not to name the former employee, even though it may now be a moot point, because I know how vindictive Journal Communications can be.

Posted by Jessica McBride at 8:03 PM 0 comments
November 30, 2007

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