So Long You Prick

May 06, 2001

On April 16, 2001 Jay Harris wrote a memo to the staff of the San Jose Mercury News. Here are some clips:

"I submitted my resignation today as publisher of the Mercury News.

"In a letter to Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder and the Newspaper Division president, Steve Rossi, I explained I was stepping down 'in the hope that doing so will cause them to closely examine the wisdom' of profit targets we've been struggling to find a way to meet ... We have been unable to find a way to meet the new targets without risking significant and lasting harm to the Mercury News -- as a journalistic enterprise and as the special place to work that it is ....

"Keep the faith. Strive for excellence. Fight for the right."

Harris had been publisher for seven years, a well-respected and high profile African-American publisher. News of his resignation flew through the media community, instantly turning Jay Harris into a kind of over-night martyr to good journalism.

Here was someone, a respected insider, who stood up to corporate greed. "Sometimes you have to stand in front of the bus," Harris told the Washington Post.

A side note: What about the freedom rides or school desegregation? Weren't the good guys "in" the bus and the assholes standing in front?

In any case, the National Association of Black Journalists released a statement, which called the decision by Harris "a major embarrassment for the media industry and particularly the newspaper industry." The American Society of Newspaper Editors invited Harris to be their closing conference speaker. Editors from around the country applauded Harris' courage. "I feel so strongly that what Jay did was so extraordinary," said Geneva Overholser, the former editor of The Des Moines Register. "The key is to help the public know what is going on. It seems to me that public pressure is the only help against Wall Street pressure."

Wall Street or corporate executives -- two things real journalists hate. Witness this letter to Tony Ridder from a laid-off Knight Ridder employee from the Beacon Journal:

"Don't worry about me; I'll land on my feet. I don't regret coming here, even though I've been laid off now. In fact, my only regret is that you haven't come to visit the Beacon Journal. I would have loved to piss on your shoes.

"So long, you prick.

"Mark Schlueb former Staff Writer, Akron Beacon Journal"

Meanwhile, in the case of Jay Harris, Tony Ridder wrote a perception vs. reality piece in the Mercury News defending the Ridder reputation and questioning Harris' grasp of the issues. Here is a part of Ridder's column:

"Perception: Knight Ridder was contemplating newsroom layoffs, and the prospect triggered Jay's resignation.

"Reality: More than two weeks before Jay resigned, he sent an internal memo to employees of the Mercury News saying he was contemplating layoffs, but that he would get back to them later as to the particulars. No corporate mandate prompted this note. In fact, I felt that to send such a document without definite plans would only stir up anxiety. Had I known, I would have advised against it."

For most of us, we don't need someone like Jay Harris to let us know the mainstream press sucks. But it can be interesting to watch the soap opera unfold. In a small way, the direction and issues of the mainstream press define the issues in the underground press. So for the next few months this space will provide a few notes about the inside out of the media business.

If you have any tips, comments, questions please address:
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Harvey Wallbanger
Enabler of the Garrett County Press