Simmer Down, Angry Mob
My column two weeks ago referenced the song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season),” but even then I had no clue just how much the proverbial seasons would quickly be changing at this here newsweekly.
Anyone who still reads this paper knows by now that ownership of LEO recently changed hands from SouthComm to Aaron Yarmuth. With this change of ownership came some staffing changes too, most notably the firing of editor/columnist Sara Havens and staff writer April Corbin. Many folks are in an uproar over their letting-go, both because the women were popular and talented writers, but also because Havens was axed on the very day of her 15th anniversary at LEO. Supporters of the duo quickly took to Facebook with promises to quit reading the LEO in protest. (A few knuckleheads even encouraged folks to post selfies of them vandalizing copies of the paper.) A couple other staffers quit soon after the firings, either in protest of the layoffs or because of concerns about heavy workloads, but Yarmuth has pledged to maintain a paper worth reading by relying heavily on freelance writers. Still, many folks have pledged to never read this paper again. For those of you still left (and for those supposed deserters who are sneak-reading this), please allow me to share my two cents about the debacle that has become #LEOgate.
I totally get why many readers are frustrated, as I too was baffled that Sara and April were fired, especially because they provided quality coverage of important issues that don’t get much shine elsewhere in local news. This is especially true about issues affecting LGBT folks and people of color. As far as I can tell, I’m the first openly gay black man to contribute regularly to one of the city’s major news outlets - and my presence here is due mostly to Sara Havens, who has kept me around these last seven months despite my consistent untimeliness in making deadline. Many of us came to know and love Sara and April through their brilliant work and it doesn’t seem to make sense why Yarmuth, if he really wants this to be a good paper, wouldn’t keep these award-winning journalists around.
Except that it does make sense. Yarmuth is a businessman and the LEO is his investment. Ultimately, this business that is the LEO wasn’t making any money. The LEO is not a nonprofit organization. Beloved as any staff person may be, if they’re getting paid a significant amount of money with no financial return, well then it only makes sense to cut losses and try something cheaper. Further, lots of popular and talented people lose their jobs on the regular in this city, yet there is no crucifying of their employers or campaigns to boycott their products. Betty Baye, a woman more accomplished than any LEO writer, was the only black columnist and editorial writer at the “Courier-Journal” when she was abruptly let go in 2011, yet no one from the peanut gallery was burning copies of the C-J when she got the boot. Sara and April are big girls - in fact, they are grown ass women who surely understand the ebbs and flows of the business world and the fragility of jobs in journalism. No doubt these phenomenal women land on their feet and this whole thing will be but a footnote in their bios. The angry mob needs to simmer down.
Now for his part, new owner and self-appointed executive editor Aaron Yarmuth has a thing or two to learn about both LEO readers and about being a businessman. If I were him, I’d stop speaking and writing for myself and quickly hire someone who’s better at sounding less douchey. The younger Yarmuth clearly didn’t inherit his dad’s sense of decorum and tact, but perhaps he can at least borrow the congressman’s press secretary.
Finally, please have a little faith in those freelancers who will contribute to the new LEO. It is always wonderful when writers can get paid for their work. Don’t devalue or dismiss their work simply because they aren’t on salary.
This period of uncertainty is but another season in the life of LEO. As LEO forges on with a new owner, new staff and new writers, I’ll paraphrase The Byrds by saying that this is now the time to plant, the time to heal, the time to build up, and the time for peace, I swear it’s not too late!