Update: Editor claims he was fired for advancing equal pay but publisher, former colleagues push back
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from the publisher, the three journalists mentioned in the original story and two former colleagues.
Jeffrey Good, executive editor of Newspapers of New England's Pioneer Valley Newspaper group, said he's been fired for advocating equal pay for women employees — and quickly prompted his publisher and former colleagues to dispute his self-portrayal.
In a note to staff, Good said that publisher Mike Rifanburg dismissed him for his advocacy for "transparency and fair pay for our female colleagues at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and its sister publications" in western Massachusetts.
Good explicitly mentioned "three talented and courageous women in the Gazette newsroom — reporters Lisa Spear and Emily Cutts and photojournalist Sarah Crosby" — as having alleged that they are underpaid "in light of their education, experience and contributions to our award-winning news reports."
"They were right," he wrote. Detailing his dealings with his boss over the matter, he wrote, "I went into Mike’s office and pushed for them — and others who had not yet complained, female and male — to be paid equitably."
In addition, Good conceded that he was himself not without fault.
"I accept my share of blame for the situation that prompted the women’s protests. While I have always taken pride in seeking raises for deserving employees, I (and my boss) failed to see the gap developing as we hired some male reporters at higher-than-existing rates based on their previous salaries or competing job offers. I appreciated the women pointing out the disparity and felt honor-bound to address it as quickly as possible."
Two former high-ranking female editors reached out to Poynter after seeing the initial story to dispute Good's portrayal as supporting of pay equity.
Both Laurie Loisel, former Hampshire Gazette managing editor for news and a 29-year-veteran before leaving in 2015, and Kathleen Mellon, the longtime arts editor and an editorial board member who left last year, said that Good's track record with women was poor and that they both felt he'd essentially driven them out of the paper.
"Jeff is not the hero he makes himself out to be," said Loisel, who said that he'd demoted her and in her mind was "marginalizing women."
Mellon said her personal experience with Good was also problematic and that his note to staff was hypocritical. "I was one of several he ran out of the paper," she said when reached at Chicago's O'Hare Airport Wednesday on her way back home. "I left a year ago under incredible duress. "
Mellon said salaries were a longtime issue at the paper and one that Good inherited. But she agreed with Loisel that she did not associate Good with moves to improve the situation and that women "fought tooth and nail over wages with him" once inequitable realities became clearer in recent years at the non-union paper.
Poynter had reached out to Rifanburg and Good early Wednesday but had not heard back from either upon running the initial story. Rifanburg has since issued the following statement:
Respectfully, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Recorder disagree with Mr. Good’s negative characterizations about our ongoing efforts to meet and work with employees to address pay concerns. Since 2016, we have been actively engaged at the Gazette and Recorder in reviewing pay in all areas to determine if there are differences in pay and address any differences we find. We started and took these measures before Mr. Good was involved, and we will continue with these important analyses after Mr. Good’s departure.
We started this review, not Mr. Good. Although we cannot discuss personnel matters out of respect for our employees, Mr. Good’s transition is in no way due to his participation in the Gazette’s ongoing efforts to address pay equity issues.
Please be assured that we commend any employee for voicing concerns about pay equity in the workplace and for suggesting ways in which pay structures can be improved or made more transparent. We greatly appreciate and look forward to continuing to work with the reporters Jeff referred to in his email, who have been very helpful in this process. The Gazette has been, and continues to, actively analyze compensation and is having an ongoing dialogue with employees about pay issues.
Journalists Lisa Spear, Sarah Crosby and Emily Cutts sent Poynter the following statement:
"Our job as journalists is to ask tough questions and to tell the truth. That charge does not stop when we walk through the doors of our own newsroom. Pay parity is a complicated and important issue and we look forward to continuing the conversation."
In response to statements by the publisher and his former colleagues, Good told Poynter, "I respectfully disagree with those characterizations of my role. But I see no merit in debating them. They are entitled to their opinions." He added, "I could never discuss personnel matters involving former employees."
On the publisher's statement, he said specifically, "I am glad to hear of the 'ongoing dialogue' but, make no mistake, it was these three young women who raised the tough questions and would not rest until the company answered them. I am proud of them all."
Good won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing while with the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns). He won for a campaign urging reforms in Florida's probate system in settling estates. He later moved north and was editor of the Valley News in Lebanon, New Hampshire, before coming to the Pioneer Valley, which is generally a bucolic and rural area, and a liberal bastion politically, serving as home to a collection of elite colleges and universities. Those include Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts.
The papers that are members of the Pioneer Valley group are the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Greenfield Recorder, Amherst Bulletin and Valley Advocate.