Speaking of DARTS (see post below) from the Columbia Journalism Review, here’s another one I was directly involved in:
* DART to The Daily Californian, for not even trying to fight city hall. On May 18, publisher Paul Zindell received a letter from Joan Shoemaker, the mayor of El Cajon, in which she strongly criticized “negative” coverage by reporter Michael Drummond and reminded the publisher of his promise “to be positive and supportive of our efforts in this City”; on June 14, upon returning from his honeymoon, Drummond was dismissed. (In protest, managing editor Francine Phillips resigned.) According to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune on the ensuing demonstration outside the Californian’s office (MAYOR BARKS, PUBLISHER BOWS, read one typical sign), Zindell observed that Drummond “could have put a more positive spin on his stories” but denied as “preposterous” any link between the letter and the firing. (The mayor’s letter had referred to three specific pieces, published on May 14, 16, and 17. Research reveals that Drummond’s May 14 story, on the unveiling of plans “for a vibrant, mural-splashed farmers’ markedesigned to beautify the city’s decaying core,” noted potential problems; his May 16 piece featured the dozens of homeless teenage “mall rats who dwell beneath the city’s streets”; the May 17 story dealt with the low economic status of El Cajon residents as shown by a recent census report.) In the wake of the mayor’s complaint, Zindell began meeting with individual staff members to measure their “Positive Attitude Quotient.”
Zindell singled me out as a reporter with a bad attitude, because I organized a newsroom rebellion against his handling of Drummond. I came damn close to getting fired, but I groveled enough to save my ass. I’ve always regretted that. I probably would have been fine if I had just gone ahead and quit or got myself fired, but at the time (big recession, newspapers not hiring), I didn’t think I could afford to lose my job and I loved being a reporter.