3 journalists quit N.Y.'s Register-Star after colleague is fired

Times-Union | SamPratt.com | Jim Romenesko | Register-Star

Three journalists at the (Hudson, N.Y.) Register-Star quit the paper after a colleague was fired for resisting his editor's insistence that he include what he viewed as superflous detail in a story. Tom Casey didn't want to include in his report the fact that a city councilman didn't stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. Reporters Adam Shanks and Billy Shannon and Register-Star city editor Francesca Olsen resigned after Casey lost his job.

The Times-Union reports:

Casey says he wouldn't have balked at writing about [councilman John] Friedman's position if he'd been allowed to tackle the topic thoroughly and responsibly. He just thought questioning a politician's patriotism deserved more than a few paragraphs quickly added to an unrelated story, especially since Friedman has been declining to stand for many months.

Shanks, Shannon and Olsen were among the Register-Star staffers who signed a letter protesting Casey's firing: "Tom was fired for doing what any journalism professor would want him to do, stand up for the integrity of his own reporting," the letter reads.

He was ordered by management to insert a paragraph about something he did not consider newsworthy and that was totally unrelated to the topic of his article, the city budget.

Shanks, Olsen and Casey told Jim Romenesko about leaving the paper. Olsen wrote that publisher Roger F. Coleman "asked me repeatedly if I was resigning, and when I said I stood with my staff he asked if that meant I stood against him and [Executive Editor Theresa] Hyland."

I said it wasn’t really that simple. After it became clear we weren’t going to have a reasoned and even-toned discussion about this I said I would resign.

Hyland and Coleman wrote their own account of Casey's firing:

We just don’t understand why a reporter would want to hide this, seemingly protect a public official or censor the news. And to be frank, that is exactly what happened here ...

This isn’t about taking a principled stand against higher-ups. This isn’t about not allowing a free-flow of ideas and discussion. There was an exchange of ideas. It was just overruled. No one was fired for disagreeing with his or her supervisor.

Chris Churchill talked with the four journalists after they left the paper.

Last week, I met with Casey and the other members of the Newly Unemployed Four at a Hudson falafel shop just a few blocks from the Register-Star's office. Not surprisingly, they seemed a little shell-shocked. Joblessness in a down economy will do that to you.

But more than that, they were chagrined to no longer be reporting news, and they almost couldn't help but turn conversation to the nitty-gritty local issues in which they were recently immersed.

One thing was clear: The four had loved, really loved, their jobs. They knew that journalism remains an amazing way to make a living, despite the newspaper industry's recent struggles.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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