Controversy Breaks Out Over Pioneer Valley Newspaper Group Firing

By ·

Photo by Rusty Clark via Flickr/creative commons

A Pulitzer prize-winning editor in the Pioneer Valley this week has ignited one of the most talked-about controversies in media right now, amid the industry’s ongoing struggle with gender disparity in pay. But what began as a story about a man standing up for fairer pay for women colleagues has since gotten a lot more complicated.

It all began when an email sent by Jeffrey Good, executive editor of the Pioneer Valley Newspaper group (which publishes the Daily Hampshire Gazette), was passed around online and picked up by equality advocates and journalists pretty much everywhere. In it, he wrote to his staff that he had been fired Monday after advocating for three women—two reporters and a photographer—whose pay he thought was not reflective of their experience and didn’t match up with that of their male colleagues, and asking for a meeting to be held with staff members to discuss the issue. Writers there are not unionized.

“Publisher Mike Rifanburg informed me this week that I am being fired,” he wrote. “The reason: I advocated for transparency and fair pay for our female colleagues at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and its sister publications.”

Reposting a previous tweet: The executive editor of my former paper was fired today and in an all-staff email said it was for advocating for equal pay and transparency pic.twitter.com/p3NnERjmwF

— Miranda Davis (@mirandardavis) January 31, 2018

Among the more shocking revelations in the letter was that, according to Good, Michael Rifanburg referred derisively to the women as “girls” and “selfish young ladies.”

Even more horrified that Gazette publisher Mike Rifanburg allegedly thinks that women don’t deserve equal pay, and that women who campaign for it are “selfish young ladies” pic.twitter.com/zzQwamdBaP

— Jack Evans (@JackHEvans) January 31, 2018

The whole thing has garnered scores of angry tweets and Facebook posts, and been written up everywhere from the Washington Post to Jezebel, the popular feminist news site.

But Rifanburg has disputed Good’s description of the events. In a statement, he said pay disparity discussions predated Good’s involvement, and that although he can’t say why Good was fired, it wasn’t for his advocacy for women.

On top of that, Poynter has published interviews with two women who worked as editors under Good. And their story differs from Good’s as well. One, Kathleen Mellon, told the journalism trade publication that she felt she’d been forced out by Good and that female staff actually “fought tooth and nail over wages with him.” Said Laurie Loisel, a former managing editor: “Jeff is not the hero he makes himself out to be.”

Responding to those accusations, Good told the Post he found it “disappointing” they chose “to grind an old axe” rather than stand by female staffers.

It gets more complicated!

Now photojournalist Sarah Crosby, who said she and her colleagues are looking “forward to continuing the conversation,” also said she wasn’t entirely on board with Good’s approach to securing pay increases. And she says she and colleagues Emily Cutts and Lisa Spear were unfairly dragged into the spotlight by Good’s memo. “The several closed-door meetings Jeff and I had continued a culture that was secretive, stressful and difficult to move the issue forward in,” Crosby told the Gazette. “Additionally, I am disappointed in Jeff’s decision to name me and two other women in his company-wide email without our consent and without notifying us.”

Here is Jeffrey Good’s full letter:

Dear Colleagues,

Publisher Mike Rifanburg informed me this week that I am being fired. The reason: I advocated for transparency and fair pay for our female colleagues at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and its sister publications.

A group of three talented and courageous women in the Gazette newsroom — reporters Lisa Spear and Emily Cutts and photojournalist Sarah Crosby — complained in recent months that they were being underpaid, in light of their education, experience and contributions to our award-winning news reports. They were right. I went into Mike’s office and pushed for them — and others who had not yet complained, female and male — to be paid equitably.

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.

The newswomen, along with some male colleagues, also asked for greater transparency from management in how compensation decisions are made, for a staff gathering rather than exclusively one-on-one meetings.

I supported these requests, asking Mike to authorize raises for these women and others in our family of newspapers. I also advocated for a staff meeting at which we could do what the newspapers ask the leaders of other powerful institutions to do: Provide honest answers to fair questions.

Initially, Mike seemed to be a willing partner; he said he supported equity and approved some increases. But as more staffers clamored for raises and pressure on the budget increased, Mike became resentful and resistant in our closed-door meetings. He rejected the idea of a staff meeting and berated me for supporting it. “You should be a leader,” he said. “Instead, you are being led.”

Funny. I thought being a leader meant precisely this — listening respectfully to legitimate concerns and then responding to them in a clear and respectful way.

After Lisa, Sarah and Emily refused to give up, Mike finally relented and asked me to schedule the staff meeting now set for next Thursday, Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. But he is none too happy about it or about the raises. In our last conversation before he fired me, Mike repeatedly referred to Lisa, Sarah and Emily as “girls” and “selfish young ladies.”

I reject those demeaning terms. Instead, I would call our colleagues brave young women — women who are showing the way to a workplace defined by equity rather than exclusivity, a newsroom that stands for the things I’ve thought a newsroom should stand for since I began in this business 37 years ago: justice, respect and truth.

I’ve worked for Newspapers of New England since 2000, first at the Valley News in New Hampshire and, since 2014, here. I’m proud of the role I’ve been able to play in helping talented journalists to do their best work, in leading us to accolades including New England Newspaper of the Year and — most importantly — in serving our communities with journalism that stands up to bullies rather than shrinking before them.

I walk out of here with my head held high, proud of the work that we’ve done together over the years. I won’t yield to bullying, and I know you will not, either. Every day, you make me proud.

Jeff

And Publisher Mike Rifanbug’s response:

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.r

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.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2018/02/01/fired-editor-equal-pay/