with the convention coverage and had been named when the award was announced. A-S management explained some time after the awards ceremony that Headliners Club rules prevent more than three persons from getting up on the stage to receive an award. The idea is apparently to prevent the appearance of a herd of folks on the stage so tacky. There were 11 reporters on the winning team. . In any case, Ms. Byrd saw fit to mention in her very brief color story \(the A-S was already carrying major stories about who had won the awards, the visiting celebrities that none of the A-S city staffers who had won the award were permitted to stand up and be recognized at the banquet. She quoted one “good-natured staffer” as “saying jokingly” that he was “only mildly insulted.” He may have been only mildly insulted, but Wood and Brown considered themselves terminally insulted. They not only fired Ms. Byrd, but also Mike Levene, the night news editor who had passed the story through the desk. Levene, 31, who had worked for the A-S for two years and 8 months, confesses that the fact that the story was apt to humiliate Wood, Brown, and the whole A-S just did not jump out at him. Through some weird lapse of judgment, he just didn’t notice what horrible blackeye it would be for the paper to have a good-natured staffer saying jokingly that he was only mildly insulted by an entirely trivial incident. WITH THAT, whatever good Nethaway’s beer bust had done for ,staff morale was forthwith undone. A-S reporters are now engaged in seeking employment elsewhere with grim determination. In the meantime, they are almost literally petrified over the possibility of being booted for some slip on the level of Byrd’s unfortunate choice of quotes, or for unknowingly tripping across one of Sam Wood’s pet aversions. Wood is not one to let slights go unnoticed. Early last summer, Ike Baruch, of Austin People Today magazine, printed an item in his column, a mild snippet about Bustin leaving the A-S because he didn’t like the interference from management. Baruch followed this up with a report that during the last congressional campaign, Jake Pickle’s press releases were routinely handled by the A-S desk while Larry Bales’ releases were specially routed through Sam Wood. Not long after that revelation, Wood encountered Baruch at the Headliners Club, where Baruch was engaged in eating a lunch of roast beef. Wood approached and tossed a handful of sugar on Baruch’s roast beef. Baruch tried something lame, like, “Shall J put this on your tab, Sam?” But Wood merely stared at him before stalking off. Bustin said, “You know, we used to have kind of a common thing, up there. We were all trying to make it a better paper. I grant you, we didn’t succeed real well, but to be a friend of Roland’s, then they were just going to spit all over you. They had made up their minds to get you out and it didn’t matter whether you did your job well or not, if you weren’t a friend of Roland’s.” Another reporter, currently with the A-S, said, “You look on one side of you, and it’s vacant, and you look on the other side, and it’s vacant too. And you just keep wondering, ‘Who’s next?’ How can you work like that? I can’t. I’m getting out.” It is hard, very hard, to sort out just what is wrong with the A-S. Many of the reporters who have been fired or quit understandably carry heavy grudges and are not the most objective folks to talk to. Management types, also understandably, are most defensive about what has been happening, and are also unable to talk about many of the firings since there are so, many lawsuits pending \(around seven the reporters who remain are miserable and/or terrified. Sbme of them seem to understand what Nethaway has been trying to do, or thinks he has been trying to do, in terms of bringing the once-independent duchies \(which may or may not have been under control. But even those staffers sympathetic to Nethaway resent the way the A-S treats its employees. Some blame John Bryant, assistant managing editor, who is called “Nethaway’s hatchet man.” Others talk about the feeling of being used, manipulated, played against one another, discarded without consideration. A few of the problems are easy to diagnose. One of them is an almost stunning failure on the part of management to understand the ethos of newspeople. Mike Levene pointed out that the ‘ new employee evaluation forms introduced by Nethaway contain a section for rating “enthusiasm of employee for job and company.” Reporters may be enthusiastic about their jobs, but they are almost literally never enthusiastic about their companies. For one thing, reporters tend to be dreadful romantics, thinking of themselves as free spirits, and the idea of being “company men” is anathema to them. Reporters are also congenital gripers, irreverent. -A good reporter is skeptical, not cynical, but skeptical, and skeptical people are frequently highly irreverent about important things such as the place where they work. Reporters hardly ever show ‘much respect for people they love and revere. In fact, it is habitual with them, that if they are about to go into a press conference with a politician they really like, they’ll spend extra time thinking up especially nasty questions. Good reporters give respect only grudgingly to those who have earned it and never to anyone who simply occupies a high position such as their publisher. Some of the things for which A-S management has fired folk are so common among reporters as to leave one wondering where A-S management has been all these years. Of course reporters write parodies of their papers. Of course they make fun of their colleagues’ work \(Carlton Carl, former reporter for the Houston Chronicle, will never be allowed to forget the time he wrote a lead on a funeral story saying, “There were tears and roses in Needville firing for using foul language and having a sense of humor, 99 percent of them would be out of work tomorrow. But between Dick Brown’s bridge club and Sam Wood’s 68 years and Roland Nethaway’s job insecurity as opposed to his ambitions for the A-S, it is clear that making the American-Statesman the best newspaper in Texas is a job that will take more time than that team has had to date. M.I. February 28, 1975 5 MARTIN ELFANT SUN LIFE OF CANADA LIFE HEALTH DENTAL 600 JEFFERSON SUITE 430 HOUSTON, TEXAS 224-0686 now … now there’s this constant looking grousers, and hitchers. Three of the most over your shoulder to see who’s gaining on loyal of A-S staffers we talked to said, in you. I’m over 40. What. do I need with a effect, “Look, the paper isn’t as cruddy as place with all those knives flying around, people think it is. Cruddy, but not all that especially into backs?” cruddy.” Now that’s company loyalty, a “It was clear to us from the day Roland reporter’s version of. took over,” said an employee who has The other rather stunning thing about since been forced out, “that if you were a A-S’s management is that they don’t seem friend of Roland’s, you had a good future. ‘quite to have grasped that reporters, the But if, for some reason, you didn’t happen really good ones, are almost necessarily `Bustin says, “I’m over 40. What do I need with a place with all those knives flying around?”‘
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