Thursday, September 04, 2008

Independent Minds Answer...

... Michael Stewart is gone, alas.

From the Independent News (Aug. 28, 2008):
My name is Michael Stewart and I was an investigative reporter with the Pensacola News Journal.

News Journal Executive Editor Dick Schneider and Publisher Kevin Doyle fired me today.

To my many colleagues at the News Journal, I wish you the best.

I have also met many people I admire and respect in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties during my years at the News Journal and wish you the best of luck as well.

I just wanted to set the record straight on what happened before the spin machine kicks in gear.

I was fired for applying for another job and telling the truth about it.

For those of you who do not know me, some of the stories I’ve broken in the recent past include the ones on County Commissioner George Touart, Front Porch Community Liaison Thelma Manley and Santa Rosa County Tax Collector Robert McClure’s late payment on property taxes.

Anyway, here’s what happened:

I had applied for a job out of town and got a call last Friday asking I come in for an interview at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

I would have to leave Tuesday to make it to the interview in time.

I knew this would be a problem because Tuesday night was primary election night — a busy time at the News Journal.

I asked the agency I was interviewing with if they could postpone the interview but they said that was not possible.

My only concern was the impact this would have on the News Journal election night.

Management at the News Journal was aware my father, who lives in northern Alabama, has been in the hospital.

One solution would have been to simply call in to work Tuesday and tell my supervisors my father’s condition had worsened and I needed to leave immediately. No one would have been wiser and the issue would have dropped there.

I thought about it but felt it would not have been right.

I wanted to give them as much lead time to prepare for my absence as possible. I knew it wasn’t in my best interest to tell them but felt it was the honorable thing to do.

Anyway, on Friday, right after I got the phone call, I approached management and told them the truth — that I was sorry about the inconvenience but I would be out of town for an interview.

Schneider threatened to fire me if I went.

I went.

When I returned to work today, he made good on his threat.

Their official version is that they fired me because I left them in the lurch on election night.
Not so. I offered to work the morning cop shift Tuesday. I could have made it to my interview on time and the morning cop reporter could have covered the election that night.

Still concerned and not wanting the job to fall to someone else, I stayed late Monday night and pre-wrote my two election stories. I correctly guessed who would prevail in both races and wrote the stories accordingly — including quotes.

All the reporter who picked up the races had to do was get a quick quote from the victor — I left cell phone numbers for all candidates — and fill in the vote totals.

The job fell to reporter Carlton Proctor (bless you Carlton) and I suspect it took him all of 10 minutes to polish off the two stories.

So, the News Journal was not inconvenienced at all. Schneider and Doyle were mad I applied for another position.

When he wasn’t busy threatening me, Schneider questioned my loyalty to the News Journal but could not guarantee I would not be laid off anyway given the cutbacks at the paper.

The job is a good opportunity for me. (I am one of three finalists for the position and won’t get word from the company until late September.)

Schneider, Doyle and everyone else at the paper in upper management got where they are today by moving up the ladder by applying for jobs at new locations with more responsibility.

I’ve worked hard at the News Journal to be a good reporter and have always had a strong work ethic.

A few of my accomplishments include:

* 2008 Florida Society of Newspaper Editors third-place winner for investigative reporting .

* 2007 Gannett Publisher’s Ring nominee, the company’s highest award for individual contributions.

* One of principal writers for Pensacola News Journal insurance tab, which took second place in the Best of Gannett 2006.

* Gannett 2005 runner-up for best beat-series coverage.

* Northwest Florida Daily News “Journalist of the Year” for 2002.

* Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Augustana College.

* Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Pensacola Junior College.

* All American rating for the college publication, “The Corsair,” during my tenure as co-editor in chief.

Anyway, if there are any employers out there looking for a hard-working, honest employee, I am in the job market. As for the rest, my best advice to everyone else is, lie when it is in your best interest.

Best wishes.
We'll give Michael the benefit of doubt. His exemplary past service warrants it.

He can't mean it when he says "lie when it''s in your best interest." He probably means, "You may be better off lying to Gannett executives. They can't handle the truth."

1 comment:

BeachLover said...

I've had the privilege of occasionally dealing with Michael Stewart over the past few years and can say unequivocally that this is the PNJ's loss, and that of our entire community. Shame on Gannett for not having the foresight to find a way to retain him when given the warning that he was looking elsewhere, rather than punish him for his honesty and conscientiousness -- very rare qualities indeed these days.