Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another Top Roanoke Times Reporter Gone

My colleague Tim Jackson, who writes for Valley Business FRONT and has his own online publication, New River Voice, has an astonishing piece on the firing/resignation (your choice) of award-winning Roanoke Times reporter Tim Thornton in the current issue of NRVoice.

There are some serious questions being raised about Thornton's departure. Did he do something wrong? Is this a joke, an HR exercise, a test of executive "toughness," something with real merit?

Read Tim's piece. It's exasperating and very, very telling. Nice reporting, Tim. The story hit a nerve in the NRV, as you can judge from the comments at the bottom, 100 percent of which support Thornton. There's some real anger out there at The Times and I hear it almost every day for a variety of reasons. Treatment of employees is usually an in-house matter, but when those employees' names appear on your product and people know them, it becomes more personal. This is evidence.

Incidentally, I talked to a former president of the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Society of Human Resources Professionals and she says Thornton is almost certainly eligible for unemployment insurance payments because of a little-known labor defense called "constructive discharge," wherein you're told to resign or be fired. The Times would be responsible for much of the money Thornton would be paid in unemployment insurance benefits, she says.

(Here's a response that came directly to me and is anonymous for good reason: "I'll hazard a guess that Chris Winston was not happy about being part of Carole Tarrant's firing squad. This sounds like nothing more than an ugly way to unload an older, experienced reporter and his older, experienced salary. I've read all these Radford stories, and even learning that Thornton was taking a class doesn't make the reporting seem skewed to me. Frankly, I'm glad the App Studies folks have been willing to talk about what's going on, and if they talked because Thornton has contacts there, well, what reporter doesn't use his or her contacts? It sounds like he did everything possible to avoid creating a conflict. Pathetic, misguided bullshit.")

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