Fear, Loathing, And (Thankfully) Retreat At The Ledger

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Our new local media overlords are not nice — or very competent — people.

First, Halifax Media and the New York Times Co. sent all employees at the regional newspapers Halifax bought (The Ledger, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Gainesville Sun, etc.) an email over the Christmas holidays saying the employees would receive a second email informing them if they have a job. After letting them dangle for a couple of days, Halifax decided to keep everyone. Oh, how nice of them.

Not so much.

Seems that they froze them in place so that they could concoct a more deviously Snidely Whiplash villain plan.

Yesterday, as multiple sources reported, including some directly to me, Halifax presented seemingly all of its employees — including advertising folks — with an astonishing non-compete agreement. You really should go read the whole thing on Jim Romenesko’s site. It’s worse in its full legal glory than even the shorthand overview, which is bad enough.

In short, if you left The Ledger or another Halifax property, you couldn’t work for any media company in competition with a Halifax property for two years. But here’s the kicker. The “agreement” applied even if Halifax fired you. They could lay you off in 2013, you essentially couldn’t work in Florida with a media company (and their definition is broad) until 2015. Halifax has papers across the state.

Sign it, or your fired. Not quite Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More, but pretty nasty nonetheless.

Why would Halifax do this? Why would they care if you went somewhere else after they fired you? It makes (maybe) a little more sense for sales folks, but then, why would they fire you if you brought in money?But it makes no sense for reporters because it’s obvious that few, if any, media executives actually care about reporting and generally see journalism as a cost center.

The most plausible answer came from a Romenesko tipster. The best explanation is that whoever wrote that agreement for Halifax did not care if employees worked somewhere else. They didn’t want them to sign. They wanted the chance to fire employees with cause and get out of paying severance. (Such a move might even jerk employees out of unemployment insurance. I don’t know the legal ins and outs. Maybe Kemp or someone can weigh in on all of this.)

I have to say all of that makes sense. The people doing it have no soul, but there is a certain cold logic to it. It’s not personal. Strictly business.

I am told that the Ledger executives I praised a few weeks back (see what I get for magnanimity) were riding the company train pretty hard. I’ve heard no evidence of them pushing back against corporate. There were certainly no threats to resign because such a thuggish policy runs contrary to the tenets of the religion one of them might very publicly adhere to. What would Jesus do, Jerome? Or a leader?

Thankfully, it seems a leader did emerge in Sarasota. In the Romenesko account, ace reporter/editor Matthew Doig, whom I have never met, but whose work I admire, is the only line level employee mentioned by name. One perceives he led a bit of a revolt. One also perceives that publisher Diane McFarlin at least provided a pretty good conduit to management. Again, reading between the lines, I think McFarlin did a little bit of spade work for her people. If I’m wrong, correct me.

Anyway, Halifax seems to have crumbled. They’ve now rescinded the non-compete agreement. That’s good news.

But the whole thing is rather baffling.

This was superduper Rick Scott’s Florida screw workers hardball. Somebody at Halifax paid some lawyer a lot of money to draw up that obscenity. It did not happen by accident. Somewhere they deliberated and decided to act. How is it these rock-ribbed conservative (there is no liberal media, morons) business types collapsed in the face of a little employee pushback? Did they not expect it? No wonder these people all fear unions. They’re confrontation-averse babies.

Maybe, just maybe, all this shows the power of shame. As I’m fond of writing, that’s the only weapon a lot of us have. Maybe this shows the power that, say, Leadership Lakeland might wield if it decided to be something other than a silly, self-aggrandizing frarority. What if Leadership Lakeland actually took positions on community issues? What if it actually condemned something? Send out an email and vote. Hell, condemn me with your first vote. At least you’d be doing something.

What if we had a Chamber of Commerce committed to promoting an ethical and prosperous business climate? Such an organization could rescind the membership of a major local institution like The Ledger if it behaved in this way. It’s something. Again, we tell workers they don’t need unions, because, you know, there’s harmony between ownership and labor. Why don’t you try to enforce an object lesson, Chamberians?

I will now pause so that you can enjoy a full belly laugh about those last two paragraphs. Finished? Ok. Good.

Anyway, I don’t give advice to people. But I’m going to give advice to people. You’ve got a brief reprieve, Ledger folks. Start looking. Consider anything that remotely allows you to keep the lifestyle you need. 7-11s, Safari parks, anything.

Fear and worry are corrosive. And you can find intellectual and creative fulfillment outside of work. You can find it right here at LL. The volunteer alternative media will welcome you with open arms. We’ll never assign you long, meaningless, boring projects. And we’ll never ask you to sign non compete clauses. We don’t fear competition. And you’re not a cost center to us.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuck Welch for Lakeland Local

9 thoughts on “Fear, Loathing, And (Thankfully) Retreat At The Ledger

  1. As I understand Florida law, an employer can fire an employee at any time and does not have to give a reason. It does not have to be “for cause.” Of course things change if you have a contract or tenure or some sort of collective-bargaining agreement.

  2. Great blog. A non-compete clause makes sense in a contract situation. If I know an employee can only fire or lay me off in a certain situation, then I am trading freedom for job security. Halifax offers neither.

    I’m so glad journalists spoke out against the  non-compete clause AND that Romenesko and other media watchdogs reported on it enough to shame Halifax.

  3. Great blog. A non-compete clause makes sense in a contract situation. If I know an employee can only fire or lay me off in a certain situation, then I am trading freedom for job security. Halifax offers neither.

    I’m so glad journalists spoke out against the  non-compete clause AND that Romenesko and other media watchdogs reported on it enough to shame Halifax.

  4. Billy: This was one of your very best. And, I must admit, I loved the dropping of the Snidley Whiplash bomb. Haven’t heard his name in oh, 45 years. Keep it up, compadre.

    ricky a.r.

  5. I worked for the Daytona Beach News Journal, (a Halifax owned paper) for 45 whole days, as and Advertising Account rep. I relocated from Gainesville and an18 year background in TV Advertising. I was manipulated and coerced into signing this very same Non-Compete contract. They didn’t inform me until my first day of employment.

    Michael Redding, the CEO, has high powered attorneys that are so low as to even fight me for my Unemployment benefits, while they would not even be charged for it…it would be chafed back to my prior employer. They are fraudulently inducing prospective employees with false compensation promises and then sticking it to them when they balk! Stay away from this company, and as I was told from not one, but MANY Halifax employees, RUN, DON’T WALK AWAY, AS FAST AS YOU CAN! Enforceable or not, this contracts fear factor has scared away many job propects, as the contract holds any company that hires someone on contract liable for damages as well as the former employee! If you are now unemployed, then you can’t afford to hire an attorney to get it released anyway, your at their mercy…and unfortunately, out of luck! I sincerely hope that this trickles down to all of Halifax properties, their poor business practices have sent me into near poverty! Thanks Halifax!

  6. ‘‘but it is possible to get out from under the dictatorship.’’That sounds like a good idea. But how is that possible when many can be fired from their jobs with or without cause?

  7. Like Addiva I was an employee of Halifax after they took over in sales, and was obligated to sign the agreement and was not told about it after I had left my current position and started my first day of work. I stayed 7 months and upon leaving and finding a new position in sales I was sent the dreaded non-compete stop what your doing letter.
    It was great that they recanted the agreement for current employees, but then required new employees to sign this agreement. What that decision left was some of us in sales are bound to this agreement, while others in sales were not. We had the same job title and responsibilities yet only some of us were tied to this non-compete. Sound fair?

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