Six newspapers run the same editorial calling for Christie to resign, which is kind of creepy in its own right

While researching that last post about Chris Christie’s stare, I ran across the fact that “six newspapers” in New Jersey called on the governor to resign after his Trump endorsement.

And then, I saw that all six apparently ran the same editorial. And I thought, “Huh. How does that happen?”

And then, I saw that all six papers are owned by Gannett. And I got a sort of creepy feeling down my spine.

Once, six separate editorial boards all deciding to call for their governor to resign would have been a very remarkable thing. Traditionally, getting one editorial board to a consensus on such a thing would have taken some heavy lifting by a very determined editorial page editor. But I have to wonder, to what extent were six separate decisions made? To what extent do these papers even have editorial boards as I think of them? To what extent are they, editorially speaking, even separate newspapers in 2016?

For instance, I go to the contacts page of the Asbury Park Press, and see that the opinion staff consists of one person called the “community content editor” — which sounds like someone who shovels input from readers into the paper, rather than expressing opinions himself — and a “news assistant” to handle letters.

I’m curious about the mechanics: Who was involved in the decision to run this in six papers? Who wrote it? Who signed off on it? If one of the papers said, “No, we can’t run that,” would its editors have been heeded? When an editorial says “we” at those papers, to whom does the pronoun refer?

It’s just… weird. And more than a little creepy…

All through my career in editorial, I had to deal with people who thought editorial decisions were made by corporate. They refused to believe me when I said they were not. I couldn’t even imagine by what sort of mechanism such a thing would be brought about — because such mechanisms did not exist.

The closest I ever came to experiencing something dictated by corporate was when corporate president Tony Ridder, speaking at a conference of EPEs, urged us all to stop endorsing in presidential elections. (To him, it did no good. It royally ticked off about half of readers and was a distraction from our true calling, which was local opinion.) I don’t think anyone took his advice, although I didn’t bother to check. I certainly didn’t.

But now, I see this, which flies in the face of everything I ever experienced as an editor….

9 thoughts on “Six newspapers run the same editorial calling for Christie to resign, which is kind of creepy in its own right

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Just FYI, I said the editorial ran “after his Trump endorsement.” That’s technically true, but the proximate cause, the final straw, seems to have been a particularly arrogant performance the governor put in at a press conference after he got back to N.J….

  2. Assistant

    Brad, the bad news has been that the world is changing. Whatever you experienced in your days of ink-stained hands and clickety-clack of Royals, Unerwoods, and Remingtons is gone, changed forever, replaced by tweets, bots, and RSS feeds. The hometown newspaper is just about gone, replaced by a centrally fed gibberish machine that pumps content to surround the advertising that the news giants hope will keep the residents subscribing while meeting the needs of local fishmongers.

    What’s worse is that the rate of change is accelerating to such an extent that events will change before they happen. Today one can take up whatever racial or ethnic background one cares to, marry whomever one wants, assume whatever gender identity fits for the day, use whatever public restroom one identifies with at that moment for that movement, and so forth. One can even change one’s gender years after death as has happened of late to the late journalist and writer, Evelyn Waugh, who’s now apparently a she.

    So don’t be bothered by the changes, they too will change.

    Gotta go now, need to mong some fish…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yell “copy,” and I’ll jump.

      In my first newspaper job, “copy clerk” (previously “copy boy” — the change to that job title was the only sign of deference to the political correctness of the ’70s that I encountered at that paper) at The Commercial Appeal, I saw the last days of what newspapers had been, unchanged, for a century — the typewriters, the copy pasted together with rubber cement, the linotype machines in a composing room so noisy that much of the communication was done by sign language (that was always a great job for the deaf), the rigid hierarchy, the macho atmosphere before women held management positions outside of features…

      A vignette from that time…

      It was our job to hop to whenever anybody yelled “copy.” We’d run to see what that person wanted. Sometimes it was to physically move copy — from a reporter to the metro desk, from the metro to the copy desk, from the copy desk to composing on the next floor (when it wasn’t sent via vacuum tubes!). Sometimes it was to run out and get a photo from the jail, or from some ordinary citizen. Other times, it was to fetch coffee, or run to the Rendezvous to pick up some ribs for an editor. We kept the paper moving, and were the only ones who really knew where everything was. But it was the lowliest of positions — sort of like Kenneth on “30 Rock.”

      There was this cop reporter who was typical of the kinds of colorful characters to be found in such a place. He fancied himself a real Beau Brummel, with his cheap, loud polyester suits. He was single, and lived in a room at the Scottish Inn. One day, his room was broken into and, as we learned from the police blotter, he lost 28 suits. He wasted no time in replacing them. We watched him, and for weeks after the theft, he didn’t wear the same outfit twice.

      One day, he yelled “copy,” and my friend Dave Hampton — who would later be editorial page editor of the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, MS — ran over to him. He gestured for Dave to lean in a little closer, and said, “F___ you, copy clerk!” And laughed maniacally. That’s all he wanted — just a brief indulgence in what power his lot in life afforded him.

      That was while I was in college. The first paper I worked at full-time after graduation reflected the future more than that past. We were completely transitioned to cold type, and the newsroom was very democratic, collegial and touchy-feely by comparison. We still used typewriters at the start of my tenure there, but only IBM Seletrics — that was all that the scanners that digitized the copy could read.

      But I’m sort of glad I got to experience the old Damon Runyon-style paper, however briefly, before that was all gone…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        My very first encounter with The Jackson Sun, that first paper where I worked after college, told me how different it was from the old CA.

        I had an appointment with Reid Ashe, then the executive editor of the paper. The young woman at the front desk called the newsroom and asked, “Is Reid back there?”

        I was deeply shocked that a receptionist would presume to refer to such an august personage by his first name. Of course, Reid was only about six years older than I was…

      2. Norm Ivey

        I worked in a printing plant in the 1980s, and we had a bank of Linotypes. “Linotype” always seemed like a frivolous name, but it was a concise description of what the machine produced. They were amazing machines. They were oversized and noisy for the little bits of lead type they produced, and the keyboard on the front of them was out of place. There had to be a reservoir of molten lead in there somewhere because on the rare occasion I needed a line of type reset, the operator (trying to burn me, I always thought) would flip it into my hand as soon as it came off the machine.

      3. Jim

        When I interviewed for the sportswriter job at the Columbia Record many years ago, I ran the gauntlet, even down to doing the writing sample (an indignity I’m sure you never had to undego), and I talked to everybody in the newsroom (except Doug Nye, oddly enough).
        For the coup de gras, Tom McLean sent me to talk to Charlie Byers.
        After about 30 seconds, Charlie said, “Had a rough day?”
        I said yes, and he reached in his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of bourbon and a couple of paper cups.
        That’s when I figured out I had a job at a real newspaper.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I recall my private interview with Charlie when I was doing my rounds back in April 1987. He didn’t offer me a drink. Maybe that’s because this was shortly after Knight Ridder bought the paper, and everyone thought I was the KR “spy.”

          It was a weird situation. When I came aboard as governmental affairs editor, I was the only editor in the newsroom who had been an editor at a newspaper outside South Carolina. There was no budget for covering moving expenses. Tom had to fiddle the books to give me an extra week’s pay, which only covered half my costs of moving here from Kansas.

          I’d never worked before at a paper that essentially had grown all its own editors. It was the most homogeneous group of people I had worked with up until then. In my experience, newsrooms were two-tiered — there was a core of local folks, and a career-oriented cadre that moved from paper to paper every couple of years, as though they were in the military. I was in-between. I was someone who had moved about, but wanted to put down roots. I resolved that I was going to stay here, even if the newspaper gig didn’t work out…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Gained a little insight into this situation this morning over coffee with Charlie Nutt, the owner of Free Times. Charlie bought the local alt-weekly after a career in Gannett, mostly as an editor or publisher — and a lot of it in New Jersey.

    I should have called him yesterday when I was writing this.

    Anyway, he says that Tom Donovan, the president and publisher of the Asbury Park paper, is also over those other Gannett papers. Similar situation to The StateSara Borton is publisher, and is also over the Beaufort and Hilton Head papers. So there’s your explanation.

    I speculated that with Donovan as publisher over all, maybe they had one editorial board for the group. Charlie said maybe, but he didn’t know that…


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