CEO is right, headline saying employees fired was wrong

A week or so ago, I discovered this Web log by business writers about business writing, so I added it to the blog roll and started consuming its RSS feed.

This morning, I’m a little disappointed in it. The Talking Biz News response to a CEO’s complaint about a local paper misusing the word “fired” in a headline is fairly shocking.  Here’s Talking Biz News’ conclusion:

No matter how a company lets go of its workers, whether they are part of an “elimination� or a “reduction in force� or a “rightsizing� or a “downsizing� or any of the other euphemisms and corporate speak that companies use to make what they’ve done sound better, it’s still a firing or a “termination.�

A newspaper’s job is not to sugarcoat but to tell the truth. Get over it.

When an employee is fired, it is for a specific reason related to that employee’s work or the employer’s belief that said employee’s work is not up to standards. An employee is fired for cause (whether real or imagined). When positions are eliminated, it is a layoff and the presumption is the employees lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

This is just basic stuff, I’m surprised it needs to be explained to business writers — to any journalists, for that matter.

The headline in question was not only wrong, it was libelous. The Racine Journal Times should count itself lucky if the worst that happens is a polite op-ed from the CEO who eliminated the jobs.

The headline is also poor journalism because it misleads the public about what is going on in the local job market. The employees were not “fired” because they screwed up, and therefore will be replaced. The jobs were eliminated and now there are 50 fewer jobs in the local employment market, and 50 neighbors looking for new careers.

[tags]business, journalism, ethics, accuracy[/tags]

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged by . Bookmark the permalink.

6 thoughts on “CEO is right, headline saying employees fired was wrong

  1. The headline was not libelous. Not even close. I don’t think that you understand the legal definitions of libel.

    When someone loses they’re job, they are fired, even if there was no cause. This doesn’t need to be explained to business journalists at all. The reader gets an explanation in the story about why the workers are leaving the company.

  2. I have a very clear understanding of what libel is. The headline was a printed statement that defamed 50 private citizens, and being private, they don’t even need to prove malice. And if they wanted to press it, they could make the case that most people just skim headlines, or if the article is read, the initial impression is still deeply planted in the reader’s head, so the body of the article is immaterial.

    It’s not even a close call.

    And just so you know, among the many hats I’ve worn in the news game over the past 20 years is “business reporter.”

  3. Howard,

    I am a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I work with some of the top mass communication law experts and PR professors in the country.

    Not one of them thinks what the newspaper did is libelous, and none of the PR professors — all of whom have professional PR experience — thinks that what the CEO did is the right thing to do. None of them had a problem with using the word “firing” in the lead. All of them said “firing” was an accurate word.

    I can send you their e-mails from yesterday if you’d like. I made sure my comment was on the right track before I posted it on the Internet for everyone to see. Otherwise, I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.

    I’m just a lowly professor who has written two books on business journalism and spent 20 years as a business reporter and editor, so my opinion may not carry much clout.

  4. Forget that you guys have clout. From a reader’s standpoint, the article headline indicates that a company reduced its workforce, and that such a reduction was sudden to at least the workers involved. A firing may be a result of a long term problem, but to the person(s) who needed that job, a firing is a shock. I think the reporter captured the essence that corporations often do what the hell they please, which includes sudden termination of employees… clearly the reporter is not sympathizing with the corporation. I think it’s good that a newspaper would list a headline as such. It’s a slap of reality to the community that in their midst lies a company that will sacrifice hard workers for its well being… and do so in mass.

    We all can read a lot into such headlines…

    I think in the public consciousness, firing is a negative word yet doesn’t necessarily connote wrongdoing as much as a corporation has made a decision to rid itself of an employee… and that’s because you can be fired and not have done anything to deserve such.

Leave a Reply