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.