WEST PALM BEACH — With their last ounces of integrity at stake, the newsrooms of The Palm Beach Post and CBS12 are taking abuse from their billionaire corporate owners like champs.
It’s 50 Shades of Grey meets Wall Street.
Senior columnists and anchors, rookie copy editors and veteran reporters continue to toil every day while their world is falling apart.
Yet, they shut up about it.
In our view, that’s dereliction of duty.
And the only way to deal with what’s happening at the Post and CBS12 is a good old-fashioned walkout.
The Post is probably at the most delicate time of its history. Just last month, it was announced by Atlanta-based owner Cox Media Group that the Post was getting sold for $49.5 million to a hedge-fund masquerading as a publisher, GateHouse.
Thing is, it’ll take six weeks for the sale to close.
Until then the Post‘s newsroom, even if it doesn’t know it, is in one of the most powerful positions it’s ever been in as seller Cox Media is in one of the most vulnerable.
Cox is dying for this deal to go through. Quietly.
The contract to sell, however, could be voided if the newsroom suddenly grows a collective pair, revolts and shuts down the operation.
Because if there’s something that faceless business entities like GateHouse hate more than taxes, it’s labor unrest.
Across the city at CBS12, newsroom workers have been miserable for years.
Many reporters are under-paid and over-worked, and under the thumbs of managers who’ve taken liberties with workers’ rights.
From its Maryland headquarters, station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group is, like Cox, in a delicate spot: It’s trying to buy 43 more stations from a rival, but it needs permission from several government entities.
A strike at Sinclair’s second largest station would bring unwanted attention on the fact Sinclair just isn’t the kind of company that’s dignified enough to own a large majority of local TV stations in the United States.
Sinclair, like Cox, needs silence more than anything.
For these reasons, I see no downside to strikes here, and plenty of upsides.
Walkouts at the Post and CBS12 would finally shine the national news limelight on the tragedy of dying democratic institutions. I can’t fathom that strikers wouldn’t get support from reasonable human beings throughout the country. I know I’ll cover their actions on a daily basis.
And it would embarrass (if that’s possible!) the Donald Trump administration to have high-profile labor unrest near his so-called Winter White House and put pressure on the irresponsible corporations involved.
I realize I can’t place the blame for inactivity at the Post without counting myself as one of the rollovers.
In my last years at the newspaper, I failed to offer support to the dozens of my co-workers who, one after the other, were laid off.
I should’ve spoken up for them. I should’ve worked to create a discussion in the newsroom about what was happening and where it would obviously lead.
Should’ve. Could’ve. Not doing anything about the early writings on the wall is one of the most profound regrets I have seven years after my departure.
But the ball is now in the court of the few leaders left.
How ’bout it, Frank Cerabino? You were a Midshipman, you must have a flair for the spectacular.
Jane Musgrave? I know you’ve got it in you.
Kimberly Miller? Hasn’t writing about hurricanes made you want to become one?
At CBS12, I have never heard of the high-profile anchors standing for much. People like John Discepolo and Liz Quirantes make three to four times what the reporters make. They read the news and go home. It’s a nice, easy gig if you can get it.
I doubt they’d ever take the lead no matter how mistreated their colleagues are.
But remember this: Without reporters, John and Liz and Susan and Eric would have a hell of a hard time filling up 30 minutes of air time six times a day.
Cox squeezed obscene profits from the newspaper for decades, but it didn’t appreciate its readers enough to do the right thing when it was time to leave.
It decided to sell to the worst possible buyer, a parasitic vulture investment firm that gobbles up newspapers like they are donuts and fires most of the staff so that they can squeeze a few more dollars before the public quits buying news.
GateHouse doesn’t give a damn about producing news, ferreting out injustice and stamping out corruption. It’s all about profits, silly.
Make no mistake, most of those left at the Post will be gone by year’s end unless they take action.
Why call for a solution straight out of 1919?
Because Great Depression-era robber barons are dismantling some of the last walls in West Palm Beach between crooked politicians and taxpayers. And the only way to talk to robber barons is to make them walk through an empty plant to the negotiating table.
If they took action, West Palm Beach’s beaten-down ink-stained wretches would be in good company.
Courageous but underpaid teachers in three states walked out over the past weeks, and they are starting to get results.
Newsmen and women in Denver stuck their necks out and took action this weekend.
Today’s Denver Post is stuffed with articles and editorials that another hedge-fund that recently bought the paper, Alden Global Capital, had no idea were coming out.
A reporter’s idea of an extended middle finger, the articles call for another new owner. And Alden’s unable to figure out what it can do about it.
CBS12 is owned Sinclair Broadcasting Group, another buyer of distressed properties that sucks up to Donald Trump.
Besides offering a toxic work environment here, Sinclair now holds departing TV personalities for legal ransom and fines them for quitting their job before their contracts are up.
We told you Friday about former news hounds Jonathan Beaton and Lauren Hills getting sued by the $6 billion-Sinclair over a few thousand dollars they refused to pay to be allowed to leave the business.
I wouldn’t expect the generally un-involved Palm Beach County citizenry to care. Or help. Or speak up.
Newsroom dwellers in both organization are on their own, and they need to do something about it.
For the inaction, I’ve heard excuses like “you know, I’ve got kids who need to be fed.”
Those excuses are no longer valid.
If these parents refuse to fight now, their children will live to regret it later — in a world under the thumbs of robber barons and the best politicians money can buy.