Wednesday, December 3, 2014


It's that time of year when many newspapers across the nation have kicked off their annual Christmas charity drives meant to provide food, toys, clothing and other creature comforts for the needy in their communities.

There are many good reasons why newspapers should engage in these holiday charitable efforts, which take on many different forms, the main one being that returning something to the community, especially at Christmas, is the right thing for any media outlet to do. Many of these efforts provide significant assistance to those in need and they pay off nicely in public relations benefits for the newspapers that operate them.

And, once upon a time, they were also a strong morale builder for virtually all of a newspaper's employees in every department, who felt good about doing something for the people in need in their communities.

But that is increasingly less the case, particularly among news staffers who, over the past several years, have seen many colleagues laid off, have had their pay cut and have not gotten raises in five or more years.

It's not that news staffers are turning into Scrooges, but they are growing increasingly more disgruntled over their personal financial situations and job uncertainty and are asking why it is that the top management can't seem to grasp the concept that "charity begins at home."

As one reporter -- who used to work for me at one of the newspapers where I was editor and now works at a major metro daily for one of the nation's largest media companies -- put it when we talked last week:

"They've kicked off our Christmas charity drive and loaded us up with stories to do about poor people to generate donations. But, there's a lot of resentment, particularly among some of the younger reporters who are still saddled with college loans and other debts and can hardly make ends meet from month to month. A lot of us are feeling that the only charity WE can expect from (the newspaper company) is that they'll suspend new layoffs until after the first of the year."

"Sure, participating in (the charity effort) still makes us all feel good and warm and fuzzy despite the additional workload, but's it a temporary high that won't do anything for our overall newsroom morale. As far a morale goes, I think it would have to undergo a lot of improvement just to say it's in the toilet. Right now, if it wasn't for lousy morale, we'd have no morale at all. A lot of people are saying -- and I think this runs through all departments -- that maybe what we raise for charity this year ought to go to newspaper employees who've been laid off and still haven't found jobs."

A long-time editor friend who has been trying for years to shake loose some raises for news staffers at his mid-sized daily, told me he thinks that if anything the Christmas charity efforts at his paper have, in recent years, actually been "detrimental to general newsroom morale."

"The grumbling just seems to be growing year by year. It seems like every person I assign a charity story to brings up the fact that they haven't had a raise in years, with some pointing out, and I don't know whether it's true or not, that they made more money, what with tips and all, waiting tables part-time while they were in college. I mean, we're a mid-sized paper and don't pay all that much as a starting salary and I have people who started working here at the minimum starting salary three years ago who haven't gotten a dime more since, but the cost of their rent and food has sure gone up. So, I guess it could be true," he said. "I just know that the grumbling is getting worse all the time and I really think that if my people could find jobs they're suited for outside the business that paid more, they'd be gone in a flash and I don't think that would be at all good for the paper because most of people on my staff are very good at what they do and I think it's their impression that they care a lot more about the paper than the paper cares about them."


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


UPDATE (1-8-2015): Queenie Pemelton, my friend and my Community Editor for the nearly 13 years I was editor of The Monitor, succumbed to her long battle with breast cancer this evening after more than a month in hospice care. Rest in Peace, Queenie. They simply don't make them like you anymore. 

UPDATE: Sometimes, there really is nothing I like better than good news. My friend, Monitor Community Editor Queenie Pemelton, after having her ventilator removed last night and breathing on her own, has taken a turn for the better. Perhaps prayers and well wishes do work. Either way, there now appears to be some reason for at least cautious optimism.


This morning I am reminded of an actually pretty poignant line from the last Indiana Jones movie, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:"

"We've reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away."

For the second time in less than a week, a newspaper friend could to be headed toward the final edition.

Last Wednesday, we lost longtime friend Larry Nighswander, who was my assistant managing editor for photo and design when I was managing editor of The Cincinnati Post, who died of a sudden heart attack. Larry was one of the media's best photo editors and visual educators of the past 30+ years.

Today, Queenie Pemelton, my community editor for the nearly 13 years I was editor of The Monitor, in McAllen, Texas, before my retirement last year, is hanging on by a thread at Rio Grande Regional Hospital. Like Larry, Queenie, 61, is a very special person.

She is a veteran of more than 30 years at The Monitor. And, although Queenie is not a "trained" (i.e., college graduate with a degree in journalism) journalist, she is nonetheless not only the news staffer best known to the public, she is probably the person whose name most often comes to mind when anyone in the public thinks of The Monitor.

For tens of thousands of full-time area residents and part-time "Winter Texans," Queenie -- who came to the newsroom from the back shop and got her journalism training on the job -- personifies The Monitor.

As community editor, a title I crafted for her years ago, her job for more than two decades has been to do the intake, editing and placement of the scores of press releases the newspaper receives every day from a wide variety of community people, groups and organizations from across The Monitor's circulation area, many of them hand delivered by the procession of mostly ordinary people who show up at her desk daily. Although most of these people could just as easily mail or email their press releases about a garden club meeting or a son or daughter receiving special honors at college or graduating from military boot camp, etc., they come in person because they love talking with Queenie, who always gives each of them a few minutes to chat despite her inordinately heavy workload created by the many press releases in need of editing.

To me, Queenie represents one of the things that I've always liked best about The Monitor -- it makes room daily to run many seemingly mundane community press releases dealing with the accomplishments and highly localized interests of thousands and thousands of readers and subscribers and does so not in some segregated "special" publication, but as part of the daily newspaper without in any way "harming" the paper's well-recognized professionalism.

I firmly believe that through her work, her character, her caring and her boundless love for the ordinary folks of the Rio Grande Valley, Queenie, for years, was highly instrumental in helping The Monitor stave off some of the precipitous circulation drops experienced by many other daily newspapers.

But for years now, Queenie has been waging war against breast cancer. For a while there, after several operation and much chemotherapy, many of us thought -- and hoped -- that she had won her battle. However, last week she suffered a seizure that again sent her to the hospital where she ended up being put on a ventilator. A CAT scan, according to information passed along to me, revealed that she had developed five brain tumors that have been ruled in operable.

Yesterday evening, the decision was made to remove the ventilator and although she was breathing on her own afterward, the prognosis is not good.

A mutual friend, who is keeping my updated via text messages, sent one last night that said: "Queenie is no longer the Queenie we know."

But, I beg to differ. Regardless of what happens next, in my mind, Queenie will ALWAYS be the Queenie I have known -- a very special person and a very special brand of journalist.