Wednesday, December 3, 2014

AT TODAY'S NEWSPAPERS STAFFERS WONDER WHY CHARITY DOESN'T BEGIN AT HOME

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."

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