Do Media Organizations Understand PR? Apparrently not if the newly combined Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call newspaper are any evidence.
It seems The Economist (which owns Roll Call) recently bought CQ and decided that savings could be made by combining the two Washington-based news operations. Last week 44 staffers were laid off as a result.
One journalist who survived (for the moment) was Brian Nutting, a sixty-two year old editor with over 27 years of experience at CQ.
Nutting was none too pleased at the amount of bloodshed and sent an email to his bosses and the entire newsroom demanding answers. Both CQ and Roll Call were reportedly already profitable (an amazing fact given the current state of journalism) and Nutting asked why are so many people being given the axe?
As will happen in any organzation these days — the email leaked.
On Monday the combined management of CQ/RC went nuts saying that Nutting “embarrassed” the company with his note. When the editor refused to retract or apologize — he too was shown the door. That action too instantly leaked.
CQ Editorial Director Mike Mills was asked about canning Nutting allegedly for “insubordination.” His response:
“Obviously, we can’t discuss personnel matters regarding any one individual.”
Of course you can. Especially when you know that everyone else in your newsroom is going to be talking. Nutting is quoted in the Washington Post , the Politico and elsewhere explaining his actions. To make matters worse for management, it is reported that Nutting had previously volunteered to be laid off if it would save the jobs of two other colleagues. Now all three are on the street.
The only reason for CQ/RC not defending themselves is that their actions are indefensible.
They created a bad situation — made it worse — and then doubled down on the PR disaster. What was a (self-created) one day bad new story — has now become a continuing black eye for the news organization with reporters from across town and across the blogosphere eager to pile on.
You would think that news organizations, which feast on government and corporate malfeasance, would go to school on what they see and not duplicate the most ham-handed efforts they see in handling sensitive issues.
In this case, CQ/RC has done the impossible — they have made the government look enlightened when it comes to handling personnel matters.