Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I was wrong

They say it takes a big man to admit a mistake, but over the course of my life and my career, I’ve never felt particularly big when owning up to an error. Certainly I’ve felt responsible enough to do so, and a heartfelt apology is a good thing. But it does little to erase the mistake.

Owning up to a mistake is a necessary step, particularly when the error reflects badly on someone. It should be part of a process not only of acknowledging the wrong, but in establishing or re-establishing those steps needed to ensure it is not repeated, toward restoring credibility.

That’s the way my parents raised me. It’s also what has been reinforced through the many colleagues with whom I’ve had the privilege of working over the years. It’s an ethical issue reflected in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the TAO of Journalism pledge I made some time ago. That pledge is to be transparent, accountable and open to other points of view.

In the interest of truth, transparency and accountability, I erred in publishing this morning’s post that there may have been another Sun-Times Media layoff in Aurora. I had good reason to believe from several sources that this was in fact imminent.

But I published a blog post based on that information, believing I would be able to verify that further this morning or early this afternoon.

As of this moment, however, I have not been able to verify that. In absence of such verification, I must acknowledge that I was wrong. I have no reason to doubt the information my other sources provided me earlier, but they are strangely silent now, and it appears I erred in publishing in reaction to a comment posted anonymously, although I believed, based on additional information I had, that the comment came from one of my sources. That does not justify my jumping the gun.

Admission is the first part of righting the wrong. The second part is the apology: I apologize to Sun-Times Media for publishing incorrect information on this blog.

I’d also make clear I am posting this of my own accord because I erred, not because someone complained or threatened. A good friend pointed out by email this morning that I'd trod upon thin ice. While I acknowledged when I posted early this morning the information might be tenuous, I was too eager, too confident that it was true. I should have held it until I receive further verification.

Since I started this blog, I’ve made no bones about how painful it is to watch what has been happening to myself or my former co-workers over the past several years. All the same, I harbor no anger toward this company, regardless of my layoff a year ago. I in fact enjoyed a wonderful part of my career during my 16 years at The Courier-News and as a Web content editor for Sun-Times Media and would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that.

Certainly, the company has significant problems, but they are problems that have beset the entire industry, and I believe I’ve been fair in writing about that in the past.

My sole reason for relaying information about layoffs there has been to keep others like myself, who care about their former colleagues, informed about what’s happening, since the company has been less than forthcoming with such details. Certainly the communities served by Sun-Times Media also deserve to know why there is less content in their community newspapers.

Over the course of the past year, many have expressed their appreciation for this service, which I will continue to perform. If nothing else, it often prompts a phone call or message of support from one who already has suffered a layoff to one who is experiencing it for the first time. That kind of support was important to me when I was laid off, and I would continue to foster that through my blog.

But I won’t be jumping the gun again anytime soon. I take pride in what I do as a journalist, and I am ashamed when I err. For all the criticism I have heard from journalists about bloggers over the past year, it pains me greatly that, as a journalist, I did not exercise more caution in this. It is a mistake I will not repeat.
Original post

I had intended to write tonight about the trend in the jobs marketplace that is moving increasingly toward contract, freelance and part-time workers — not just in journalism, but also in many other work arenas.

But then came the email alert that notifies me every time someone posts a comment to my blog.

One more person was let go Monday at the Aurora offices of Sun-Times Media-West Division, according to the comment. But at the moment I’m sailing blind. I have no one to contact at this hour to find out whether it was an editorial position or if it was in another department. Editorial would be a good guess, but last week’s layoffs included two ad people in Joliet.

The bottom line: A good journalist verifies the information, but the timing of the email prohibits me from doing so. That said, the live traffic feed on my blog and the timing of the email allows me to pinpoint the community from which it was sent, and that narrows down the list to just a few people I know who remain with the company. But there’s a huge potential flaw here because the underlying assumption with such logic is that the only person who would post such a comment would be an existing or former employee who knows what's happening.

Conversely, it also could be some knucklehead wanting to stir things up, although my certainty that this is legit is in the 90s, percentagewise.

Or it could be a noneconomic move, such as a disciplinary matter.

So I will try to update Wednesday morning or early afternoon if I can indeed verify this comment. If I cannot, or I find out that posting this was in error, in the interests of truth and transparency, I’ll put that information out there as well.

Feel free to send my an email at, direct message me on Twitter (@TedSchnell3) or send me a message on Facebook if you know more details.

In the meantime, the few people who are left at the Aurora office might consider an office lottery for the rights to be the last one to shut off the lights. I cannot for the life of me figure out how the company will be able to continue to justify the rental of that space considering how few people are left working there. I suspect if the entire organization does not collapse first, at some point Sun-Times Media will close shop there in favor of smaller quarters or, alternatively, in favor of a telecommuting workforce.

That could put the overhead — electrical costs of keeping a home office going, phone, laptop maintenance and the like — on the backs of the few remaining workers the company has left. Because, after years of pay freezes or minimal raises, then furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts, not to mention the increased workload and, of course, years of the stress associated with all this, the employees can afford to shoulder a little more of the company’s cost of doing business.

After all, that is the American way, right?