NewsPub Notes

Pub Notes

You couldn’t make this up: another scene in a long-running, sad, comic soap-opera. The Banner-Herald’s last two executive/managing editors left in disgust, so what does the Banner-Herald do for an encore? They fire their current managing editor. But they don’t just say, hey, we don’t need you anymore. They fire her in such a way that it affects the maximum number of people and institutions in town. The managing-editor calls the school district to clarify stats in a press release—graduation rates omit the Classic City High School. Why? The school district publicist senses an unfavorable story and alerts her boss, the superintendent. The superintendent calls his golfing companion, the publisher of the Banner-Herald. The publisher huddles with his vice president for audience, who is the partner of the principal of the Classic City High School, who is also an Athens-Clarke County commissioner. The publisher clears it with corporate headquarters, and then tells the VP for audience to fire the managing editor.

Can this really be what happened? Did the publisher get rid of the managing editor in such a way that it needlessly compromised his vice president for audience, the school superintendent, the Classic City High principal and ACC commissioner and, most of all, the managing editor, summarily fired with no opportunity to explain? And apparently the guys in Morris corporate went along with it. I do not pretend to understand the inner workings of the Banner-Herald. I know there are all kinds of reasons why people get fired or quit. If this were an isolated incident, it could be understood as the kind of bad-judgment moment we all can have at any time. But this is the third executive/managing editor in 32 months who has jumped, fallen or been pushed over the side at the Banner-Herald under this publisher.

The truth is that there are serious problems right at the top at the Banner-Herald, and those problems are strangling the newspaper we all depend on. Some of those difficulties are caused by the unrelenting pressure on management to feed the incessantly demanding maw of the debt load carried by their parent company, Morris Publishing, Morris Communications, the Morris Group and its various iterations,

At Flagpole we compete with the Banner-Herald, but as we have said many times, we respect their working journalists and count many of them among our friends. We need the Banner-Herald as much as the community does. Flagpole is an “alternative newsweekly,†and the Banner-Herald is what we’re alternative to. We’re not the Banner-Herald and don’t want to be.

All newspapers, including Flagpole, are having a difficult time in the present economic conditions, but the Banner-Herald is doubly damned to be struggling here and also compelled to help prop up Morris.

If you want to try to get an idea of just what is happening to the whole Morris publishing conglomerate, look at their latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Go to the “Investors†page at Like me, you probably can’t understand it all, but it lays out in excruciating detail the perilous condition of an overreaching media company, which owns our local daily newspaper and is draining it of every dime it can suck out (including selling off the building). Morris borrowed heavily to expand in the good times and can’t pay it back in the bad times. Even after going through a bankruptcy that forced its creditors to eat over $200 million of Morris debt, the future is still doubtful for the company. As they put it in their SEC filing: “Our indebtedness and other obligations continue to be significant. If the current economic environment does not improve, we may not be able to generate sufficient cash flow from operations to satisfy our obligations as they come due, and, as a result, we would need additional funding, which may be difficult to obtain.â€

Morris has repeatedly forced the Banner-Herald to fire essential staff members and has cut the salaries and benefits of those who remain. It could be that when corporate learned that yet another editor was to be fired here, all they thought of was the bottom line and didn’t inquire too closely into the circumstances. However this fiasco went down, it appears to be further evidence that Morris is so mired in its struggle to survive its own mismanagement that it cannot concern itself with failings on the local level. Too bad for Morris, and too bad for us. Athens deserves better from its daily newspaper.

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