Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today's Hero of the Revolution

I've been grumbling for some time now about how The Roanoke Times and its subsidiaries have tried to capture and get an exclusive hold on the area's freelance writers, telling them that if they write for a Times property, they can't write for others--especially Valley Business FRONT or the Roanoke Star Sentinel.

Most of the writers who wrote for us at the Journal have told the Journal/Times to put their demand where the sun don't shine. None has done so more eloquently than Lori White, a marvelous writer-photographer, who wrote part-time Business Journal Editor Alec Rooney* the following in response to the brass's demand ("Has Kate Krumpleman talked to you about the writing-for-one-local-biz-publication-only requirement that's now in effect with us?"):

"No, she has not, and I will be brutally honest with you, Alec: I will not do that. As a freelancer, I feel strongly about my right to write for whom I please. A freelancer is an independent, self-employed contractor who works independently with clients. I will not compromise that independence. I feel that I am well able to write and do photography for both BRBJ and the FRONT, but I will not be a toy to be tugged over and manipulated. If you want to use me, I'd love to continue writing for you, and you know how to get in touch with me."

I replied to Lori's note thusly:

"If you were a man, I'd quote the line from the David McCullough bio on Harry Truman (talking about laying down the law to the unions and labor in a steel strike): 'As he left the meeting, his balls clanged.'" Yeah, Lori! You're my hero today.

This "rule" is obnoxious, offensive, unethical, immoral and maybe even illegal. It's also stupid, but that seems to be the norm on Campbell Ave. these days.

Here are a off-blog comments (came in my e-mail) and another fired writer's lament:

"It's such a power play gone wrong. It's hard to reconcile the lack of strategy behind it. They would have been much better served to have ridden the storm in a classier fashion, shared some honest competition--along with their freelance journalists--and either allowed BRBJ to rise to the competition or fall to it, whichever."

And: "I learned early in my business career that you learn most not from the ones that do it well. You learn most from those who teach you how not to do things. Those lessons pierce the brain, soul and attitude most clearly. An MBA is not required."

And (from Bobbi Hoffman, who was writing for FRONT and the BJ), following her "dismissal" shortly after all this: "I had 'the conversation' with Kate Krumpleman today. Interesting that she said 'we decided' to enact the rule. I asked if 'we' meant The Roanoke Times or Landmark and she said no. It was within the Biz Journal. Does that mean she made the decision herself? Anyway, I told her that I was gonna dance with the one who brung me."

* Note: Don't blame this Rooney fellow, who, from all reports, is a decent guy. He's a part-time, fill-in editor who's just following orders. When I was still Journal editor, we got orders from Carole Tarrant, the executive editor of The Times, to stop using Gene Marrano, Sarah Cox and Liza Field because they were contributing to The Star Sentinel. We ignored her.


  1. Well, Dan, it's not, to my knowledge, "illegal," but it is self-destructive. Great way to shrink your writer pool.

  2. Well, I wasn't really aiming for my 15 minutes, but I guess this is as good a way as any, hmmm? Thanks, Dan. :)

  3. Way to go, Lori!

    I haven't had "the conversation" yet either, but I got a phone message and their once-friendly tone took a U-turn after the first FRONT came out. (Also still waiting for payment for an article printed in the 11/3 BRBJ. Never had to wait for payment from the "former administration.")

    Bobbi Hoffman

  4. I will second Dan's comment about Alec. He has been great to work with at BRBJ and in all respects is just doing his job. His response to me shooting my mouth off was a very mild, "Perfectly OK--I don't really have a dog in the fight...I just want good, dependable writers..." It's just a shame that he's losing them by having to follow asinine policies such as these. Anyway--just wanted to make sure the villain of the piece was properly identified.