McAdams On: The People of Media General, June 24, 2011

Dear Media General Employees,
I’m sorry. Cold comfort, that. I know. It’s all I have. I’m sorry. Another 15 furlough days after hellfire that was 2009, when you also absorbed 15 days without pay and a suspension of your 401k contributions. Three straight years of belt-tightening and net losses, with some glimmer of hope when the company turned a profit in the final quarter of last year. Now this. The rough equivalent of a 6 percent pay cut.

Wall Street is underwhelmed. The stock dropped nearly 9 percent on the news, likely because furloughs are never adequate as far as the market is concerned. But it reacts primarily to quick, numbers-only remedies that often end up sucking so much of the quality out of a business as to kill it. But look at you guys.

Congratulations to the reporters and crews at WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I. on the station’s National Murrow Award since 2008. Thank you for slogging around in flood waters for days to report on washed-out bridges and roads, rescues and relief efforts. And to your colleagues at WSAV-TV in Savannah, Ga., and WSPA-TV in Spartanville, S.C., for their regional Murrow and AP awards. Well done.

Nice job, Shannon Behnken of WFLA-TV and The Tampa Tribune, on following the effects of Florida’s foreclosure crises. Way to go.

And to the folks at WVTM-TV in Birmingham, Ala., for organizing the United Way telethon that raised nearly $700,000 to support relief efforts--thank you for that.

Nice job, Jessica Taloney of WKRG-TV in Mobile, Ala., for your investigative reporting work that let people in the area know how oil-befouled the Gulf waters remained after BP installed a containment cap on the spewing undersea well. I hope they don’t lose you.

It’s been a few years now since the Virginia Tech massacre, but probably not long enough for the folks who were at WSLS-TV in Roanoke, Va., at the time, affecting coverage that won them a Peabody. Both of the anchors were adjunct professors at the school. John Carlin retired. Jay Warren is still with the station. Thank you, Mr. Warren, for the work you do even as you and your colleagues endure the company’s hardship.

The list of distinctions surely goes on. Media General has 18 TV stations, 20-some daily newspapers and 200 or so weeklies. The headcount at the end of 2009 was around 5,000. I’m sure it’s less now, and I’d lay odds on the majority of you being stretched beyond your limit and experiencing likewise stress. There’s probably some hostility toward the executive suite right now, but that won’t help anyone. Newspapers everywhere are getting sucked into a black hole.

There’s also that old saw about work being called “work” because it is. I don’t care what six people in the world get to say--I don’t know a single individual who honestly loves what they do for a living all the time. Some days, you give it your all and then some, and all you get back is a nasty phone call and some jerk with too much leisure time telling you how you should have done your job. That’s what beer is for, and I’d buy you all one if I had a winning lottery ticket, but I don’t.

So I’ll have to settle for an expression of empathy and gratitude. For all of you who continue doing what you do with the same enthusiasm, dedication and focus; concern for your colleagues and your communities, your family and the integrity of the work you do--thank you. I hope it gets better for you all. Soon.