Monday, August 20, 2007

The end of old school

The big story inside the Enquirer is the dismissal of Business reporter Jim McNair. Late Thursday afternoon, he was called from the Information Center on the 19th floor to human resources on 16. The rumor is he was told there were complaints about him, but was not told what those complaints were or who made them. He was told he was fired, and was escorted out of the building. He personal belongings are still at his desk.

McNair is old school. He is not a proponent of the journalism of hope and didn't want to write about "good things happening." He wants to put people in jail. His coverage of Enzyte maker Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals probably helped do exactly that. He relentlessly covered the Erpenbeck and Fiorini financial scandals, and has kept the family feud at Check 'N' Go in the paper.

But McNair's brand of journalism made people inside the paper uncomfortable. The Enquirer has no history of providing this kind of hard-nosed reporting, so there was no natural spot for McNair in the newsroom, no investigative team for him to join and no editors who understand how to produce this kind of journalism It often took months for his work to appear in the paper. The Enquirer didn't see fit to run much of his work on the front page. These include his stories on workers becoming ill at a local flavorings company, and his November 2006 stories on shoddy home construction. Both of those package were published in the Sunday Business section, not on the front page.

McNair was often as hard on his editors as he was on his subjects. That didn't help him win any allies, especially when his stories led to complaints to publisher Margaret Buchanan. In July 2005 they came down hard on him for a factually correct story about Fifth Third's poor performance as an investment advisor to the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, because it was seen as unfair to Fifth Third. More recently, his coverage of rising foreclosures, declining home sales and falling prices caused local homebuilders to complain to the publisher. Remember that both Fifth Third and the local real estate industry are very big advertisers in the Enquirer.

Many people in the newsroom are suspicious that McNair was fired because the homebuilders complained too loudly, and that he was fired to placate advertisers. That would be really troubling, and because nobody trusts the Enquirer brain trust, this is what people are left to believe. Since the Enquirer won't say why McNair was fired, this is shaping up as another classic, clumsy personnel move by Tom Callinan. Callinan claims to have a master's degree, but I think it's from the Dick Cheney School of Management.

Read this Friday story and this Saturday story about Cintas, and read what CityBeat wrote weeks ago, and decide for yourself which paper has the spine to take on big business. A newspaper that is begging for advertising money won't admit the ugly truth that many of the businesspeople they take money from are crooks and cheats. Love him or hate him, McNair was good at exposing these people, and that's what a good newspaper is supposed to do. Buchanan, Callinan and the people who run the Enquirer were forced into a choice not only about McNair but about what kind of journalism they want the Enquirer known for. And by their gutless decision, they've exposed themselves.

UPDATE: There's another discussion of McNair's departure here. Two of the commenters, Leah Beth Ward and Gregg Fields, are former Enquirer business reporters. Also, Bill Sloat at the Daily Bellwether and Editor & Publisher have weighed in on this.

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

McNair is the author of this blog, correct? That didn't have anything to do with his dismissal?

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous A Concerned Reader said...

So, whatever allegations there are against Mcnair is enough to fire him for it, but a certain other reporter in the newsroom gets to skate after plagerizing other people's stories?

I think priorities are out of whack at the Enquirer.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Newsache said...

I deleted a post that resorted to namecalling.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Newsache for all your high falutin journalistic integrity you sure have fallen into a hypocritical trap here. You post on an internal personnel situation you know nothing about. (Love your logic you say The Enquirer didn't want McNair's stories then praise five or six stories he did were the editors off those days?)...Then you allow anonymous posters to trash the man who has just lost his job. Great journalism, Newsache. If you can't keep up with the moderating the action in your retirement don't try.

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because a reporter gets off a few good stories doesn't mean there aren't other problems. The first thing a reporter who wants to do "hard-hitting" stories needs to do is get -- and keep -- his editors on his side. I suspect the reason his stories hung around so long is that editors had serious problems and concerns trusting his reporting and that rather than respond, he resisted. If the editors don't trust you, don't ask them to put the newspaper's reputation on the line for your stories.

Claiming that the editors are in the tank for advertisers is a convenient excuse for a reporter who doesn't get the goods. Lots of Gannett papers hit businesses with hard stories and you don't see reporters kicked out of the building. Maybe it was a performance problem, work-habit issues or personality clashes, but that happens in the workplace all the time. It doesn't mean his editors are spineless sell-outs.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Spineless sell-out editors.

If the ladies' size 8 shoe fits...

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While CityBeat's article still presents a stronger case against Cintas, the Enquirer ran two stories about the situation. The link you provided was the second of two, letting the company tell their side. The story that ran the day before deserves some credit.
http://www.pagewash.com/nph-index.cgi/010110A/uggc:/=2farjf.radhvere.pbz/nccf/copf.qyy/negvpyr=3fNVQ=3d/20070816/OVM01/308160039/-1/nyy

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is dreadful news. Cincinnati is Potterville and the Enquirer reflects that.

I hope Mr. McNair gets hired by a better paper that appreciates him.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He got fired for doing his job properly.

I suspect the home builders threatened to pull advertising if McNair didn't back off.

The "Enquirer" is now such a hypocritical name for what has fast become a gutless newspaper. May as well call it the "P.R. Daily" for all it's worth lately.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHO WILL SAVE US FROM THE BAD GUYS?
Were our forefathers too trusting? The last several years have shown what may have been some great miscalculation by that august group. They surely knew about greed and corruption and the many twists it takes and the power it seeks. Our society is now rift with power seekers, politician of questionable alliances, organizations and businesses with powerful influential connections, etc. Our political processes are being brought to question along with the many abuses by our elected 'leaders'.
We are warned too few times of the vial nature of mankind and the need for laws that inhibit its lusts. Who is there to remind us, who was given this responsibility? The White House?, the Representatives?, the Senators?, the Judiciary...? The Fifth Estate!
Marking the failures of these bodies and the dumbing down of the population over the same years, puts a pall over the Nation's future. Who will save us from the bad guys?
A toast to another fallen hero, Jim McNair, formally of the Cincinnati Enquirer...here, here. . and know its only up from here. The best of luck.
Credit is to be given to Margaret Buchanan, Publisher, & Thomas Callinan, Editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer...here, here.
-30-

10:28 AM  
Anonymous mr. whig said...

Oh my gracious. That The Enquirer treats its rank-and-file like interchangable cogs in a machine is hardly new. That it protects its own (management) isn't a sudden development either. If you're management, life at The Enquirer is pretty darn good, as long as the MBOs are in the can by year's end! That they sought out McNair and decided they didn't like what he was doing: well, that's just plain dumb. But talented people have walked away from The Enquirer before and they will continue to do so until it becomes a revolving door of twenty-somethings and a few old timers who, well, for lack of a better term, will continue to "suckle at the teat of the mongrel dog of American journalism," as someone there once put it.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So it's OK to call Tom Callinan all kinds of things, but interrupting the canonization of Jim McNair is "namecalling?" Some legitimate allegations were censored by the removal of 3:29's comment.

But 5:22 should lay off - Newsache is (usually) even-handed in its criticism. Commas are appreciated too.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish you all would stop calling it "The Enquirer", and simply call it Enquirer.

There's nothing "the" about it. Using "the" makes the paper sound special, which it isn't.

6:12 PM  
Blogger judith said...

It took a reporter smart enough to see the story, patient enough to dig for all of complex facts, and ethical enough to shed a strong light on all facets of the lawsuit - when Jim took on the series of articles he wrote c. 2003 about the failed Electro-Jet ESOP. We don't need fewer of him. We need more.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very saddened to hear that Jim Mc Nair was fired.I don't know where Freedom of Speech went in this country?I guess it went out with George W. Bush.I can't believe
that the truth is so bad that one has to be fired for it.Jim had cutting edge stories and facts to support it.I just hope that he finds a better paper soon to work for.I guess money in this city will buy you everything even getting someone fired!!!

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Gianni said...

It is obvious that Jim McNair wasn’t a sheep. In most large Cincinnati businesses, you are required to be a sheep in order to get ahead. Corporate Cincinnati just doesn’t like their mistakes exposed as McNair did. Good grief, didn’ he know that the more “fluff” stories the Enquirer writes about businesses, the more ad money they get from those businesses? How dare he write a negative article about homebuilders or real estate ? He should be fired for pointing out that every builder doesn’t build a good house ! That’s not something a consumer needs to know ! The less they know, the happy they are, and the more money we make in ad revenue, doesn’t McNair know that ?
It’s just like Berkeley, I worked there. I, like so many others, was fired for opening my mouth.What business did I have complaining to management that they were constantly hitting customer’s credit cards ? Thank God for Jim McNair and those who have the guts to stand up and challenge corporate America!
If he didn’t write about Berkeley, some people would still be getting their credit cards hit multiple times for a bottle of big pecker pills that they, the consumer, were too embarassed to complain about..Good luck Mr. McNair, and thanks for trying to make Cincinnati a place for the truth, not a sheep farm. Maybe 60 Minutes would be interested in Cincinnati ? I forgot, if they did, Channel 12 would probably run a special on the Bengals so it wouldn’t be seen.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks like the people that McNair wrote about threatened to sue the paper too many times. His articles were hardly scandalous. They were very watered down. Anyone that knows the people in the those stories, would also know that some were guilty of far worse offenses than running a company into the ground. Money makes may people think they can buy their way out of their mistakes. What people don't seem to realize is that it always comes back to bite them in the butt. Whether you treat people well or not, the energy you put out in life will come back at you. McNair may be on the short end of the stick now, but you can't keep a good man down.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet reference to what "Bill Sloat at the Daily Bellwether" has to say. Very subtle.

9:29 PM  
Anonymous McNair is a hack said...

THANK YOU GOD!

Jim McNair was canned. Good. Now if we can just find a way to have the SOB arrested all will be right with the world.

His suposed hard hittng stories were alwats filled with "insiders say" and "sources close to the investigation" and anything else he can say so he doesn't have to name his unreliable source.

He constantly wrote halftruths that hurt people. Though his "stories" may have been sometimes technically correct, they were factually imprecise and always unfair. Knowing he didn't have all of the facts he ran the story anyway, because nothing screws up a good story like a few facts.

Fired? It's just a shame the editors didn't push him down the stairs on his way out the door.

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell me Mr "mcnair is a hack"...

Do you build crappy homes or do you sell pecker pills?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust me. Most of you have no idea of what you are talking about here.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then why don't you enlighten us ANON 4:51?

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To ANON "mcnair is a hack":

I sincerely hope there is a time that you choke on everything you ever thought was right. I hope you gasp and then get over it. I hope it is momentarily...

More, I hope you can gain some sort of acceptance and/or perspective to truth and reality.

On the other hand, if you are a Gannett manager, I hope the gasps last long enough for you to know that no one (including those you think friends in Gannett-land) will lift a finger to help you. If you think Gannett people are with you, test them. Sure that you will find out that they are NOT.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Jim McNair, this sentence was the wrong thing to say: "It's just a shame the editors didn't push him down the stairs on his way out the door."

Personally, I think that Jim McNair is a pain in the ass to work with. At the same time, I realize that having someone like Jim McNair and his thoughts, ideas and criticisms are of the up most importance.

If Jim McNair is reporting, I am listening. This is because I know he is a pain in the ass...

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:30:
It is utmost importance NOT up most - the mistake makes me fear you are an Enquirer editor, copy editor or reporter.

It's amazing that McNair had no corrections given the poor-quality of the front line editing and subsequent copy editing (although there are some stellar copy editors, there are just as many bad ones).

Reporters are on their OWN at the Enquirer. The emphasis is on production , online and data - and, it goes without saying, on not offending anyone.

There is no real accountability in the newsroom. Any discussion of problems is dismissed as whining and top editors are out of touch with most of their staff.

Jim should see this as opportunity to go to a paper that will appreciate his skills and that cares about journalism - not creating "social networks," lame online broadcasts and insipid reporting.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Trust me. Most of you have no idea of what you are talking about here.
4:51 PM


Anonymous said...
Then why don't you enlighten us ANON 4:51?
5:08 PM

Because someone tried to the first day and Newsache deleted the truth.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim covered a story about high-level corporate wrongdoing in which I was an innocent player.

His reporting was top-notch, and he conducted himself with the highest professionalism and integrity at all times.

McNair never violated a confidence, and wrote only the facts which he was able to verify by multiple sources. He never sensationalized the story, or got ahead of the facts, although they were many opportunities to do so.

To paraphrase Harry Truman, Jim McNair never gave a company hell, he just gave readers the truth, which the companys in turn may have thought was hell.

That Jim McNair was summarily fired reveals everything one needs to know about the Enquirer and the Cincinnati business environment, as well as the desperate desire of Skaggy Maggy the Publisher to endear herself with Cincinnati's power elite.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Members of the Homebuilders Association are one of the largest remaining advertisers for the Enquirer.

Did McNair's pursuit of a story in that neck of the woods generate a whispered high-level threat to the publisher to drop the story or jeopardize Enquirer advertising revenue?

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While we're on the topic of journalistic integrity, why is the Enquirer's N Ky GM Dennis Hetzel referred to as "Rush Limbaugh" behind his back by colleagues and subordinates?

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim McNair is a fair and decent reporter and one of the last of the real investigative journalists left in this town. What a joke that the Enquirer just keeps going down hill and won't cover the real news. If there were complaints about McNair they should have been dealt with at time time instead of saving them up for a firing. I hope he sues their ass and wins a big one!

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the "Rush Limbaugh" question in relation to Dennis Hetzel:

Maybe Rush and Dennis are both blow-hards that don't say anything substantial or meaningful.

Or maybe it is the balding thing.

Or, maybe... medication?

Just thoughts.

5:33 PM  
Blogger ThatDeborahGirl said...

He got fired for doing his job properly

*****
Welcome to Cincinnati. Where up is down, North is South but black is always black and white is always white.

1:28 PM  

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