Last week, the Flyer's Toby Sells reported that the Gannett Corporation, which owns the Commercial Appeal, was refusing to pay severance to 23 former employees the company had laid off in April.
Memphis Newspaper Guild president Daniel Connolly said current employees had hung signs around the newspaper's offices that read, "Shame on Gannett — Pay the Severance." Connolly added that the Guild had filed a union grievance and federal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.
Let's forget for a moment that it's likely, given the Trump administration's track record on such matters, that the National Labor Relations Board offices are completely empty and that the agency's head is a former coal mining CEO. The fact is, Gannett holds all the cards and will do exactly as it pleases with its money and its dwindling number of human resources.
On Monday, Gannett announced that it would sell the CA's iconic headquarters building at 495 Union and seek smaller office space elsewhere (in Memphis, theoretically). That will take care of those pesky signs, at least.
My theory is that the editorial staff will meet at Cafe Eclectic at 8:30 each morning, then go work from home. I mean, how hard is it to put out an 18-page daily paper with six local stories, anyway? Just kidding. Sort of. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that Gannett sees the CA's future as digital, and the paper product is suffering because of it.
Whether in print or digital, we need great Memphis journalists. And we need for them to be treated fairly, not like replaceable factory widgets. In fact, we need journalists, now more than ever.
Just look at what's happening in Washington, D.C. The Senate outlawed television journalists from interviewing Senators outside the Senate chambers last week. There is no reason for this, unless it's to make it easier to keep the American people in the dark. Or unless you believe South Carolina Senator Tim Scott's explanation that television cameras could catch the PIN numbers of senators at the Senate ATMs. (That's actually true. Scott's PIN is 4267. Go try it.)
It's all so absurd.
Even Tennessee Senator Bob Corker acknowledged that the optics weren't great: "I understand, in tandem, that it's maybe not so good" to restrict press access while health care is drafted privately. Ya think, Senator? What a profile in courage.
Meanwhile, as Republicans were behind closed doors creating a bill that will reportedly take away health care for 23 million Americans, greatly restrict and reduce Medicare and Medicaid benefits, put lifetime caps on insurance company pay-outs, and provide huge tax breaks for the rich, the White House began denying reporters the ability to use cameras or recording devices in certain press conferences.
Listen, folks, when our government officials start restricting the press, it's for a reason: They don't want you to know what they're doing. They want to have deniability. If interviews and press conferences aren't recorded, it's much easier to claim you were misquoted by the Fake Media™. It's much easier to claim, as Attorney Jeff Sessions did approximately 6,724 times in his Senate testimony last week: "I do not recall ..." The reason he didn't flatly state, "I didn't do that ..." is that he knows there may be recorded evidence that will counter his conveniently faulty memory.
There's a reason journalists want to put people "on the record." It's not just a phrase. It's one of the key Constitutional safeguards of our way of life. The first sentence in the First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
There's a reason it's the first.