Reporters firing raises questions
Published: April 25, 2012
At that point, they told Neavling he was off the City Hall beat.
He didn't take the news well. Neavling suffered a severe panic attack, something he says he's dealt with throughout his life, and left the newsroom on a stretcher.
Neavling says his doctor told him to take some time off from work, which he did. On April 18, he returned to the office for another meeting with Anger and Taylor. With Pugh's letter then in hand, they allegedly told Neavling, "We can't have a City Hall reporter who can't work with City Hall. We feel like you're out of control."
Then the ax fell.
"I was absolutely shocked," Neavling says. "I never thought in a million years that responsible, aggressive reporting would lead to my termination."
The Free Press would not comment on the matter.
"Normally editors would try to rehabilitate someone who was having difficulties," says Benjamin Burns, former executive editor of The Detroit News and director of the journalism program at Wayne State University. "If that was the only reason — Charles Pugh complaining ... then that would indicate he probably shouldn't have been fired."
Burns, who describes Anger as an editor who doesn't make quick and unsupported decisions, suspected there were other factors involved. "I think the Facebook comment would cause an editor to think a reporter was biased, and unable to fairly cover City Council," he says. "That alone would be grounds to remove someone from a beat. It's unlikely, in my view, that they reached this decision based on the Pugh letter. That may have been a straw in the whole thing."
Burns, who says he doesn't know Neavling, attributed part of the problem to the digital direction that journalism is headed in.
"Newspaper organizations are encouraging reporters to have blogs and make comments," he says. "Then when reporters make comments that offend the corporate folks they smack them on the knuckles. Normally, if a reporter did that, you would call them in and say, 'Hey, don't do that.' So I think there are other factors involved in [the] decision."
In fact, Neavling had been disciplined once before. About a year ago, he says, he'd had a confrontation with one of the police officers who provide security at council meetings. Again, there was an overflow crowd. Security was deciding who could get in, and who couldn't. Neavling objected when he was barred from covering the action, and began complaining that the Open Meetings Act was being violated. One of the cops shoved Neavling, hard, he says, pushing him into a wall and giving him whiplash. Neavling says he called the officer an "asshole."
The paper suspended him for three days as a result of that incident.
Neavling is now in the process of filing a wrongful termination grievance through his union. He says he expects to be reinstated, but is talking to a private attorney just in case.
This week's News Hits was written by editorial intern Ryan Felton and MT news editor Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.
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