Four years after: On the whims, happenstances and vicissitudes, dude

Las Vegas as seen from the McCarran parking garage (R-J photo)

I used to stand on the upper floors of the parking garage at McCarran when I flew in or out of town, gaze over the city and think: This is my town. I’m a part of it. I can make things happen. Or at least stir the pot.

I knew casino owners, council members, commissioners, lawmakers, government executives of every stripe.

I conducted newspaper editorial boards with billionaires, governors, congressmen, senators, heads of federal agencies, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice and more than a few gadflies and crackpots. I had one billionaire call me stupid to my face in front of my boss. After another meeting, he held onto my arm as I escorted him down a hallway he could not see to where his driver waited.

I was one those bastards on Bonanza, as one former mayor called us.

On this day four years ago, I walked unceremoniously and unlamented out of the offices of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and have never returned. That was after nearly 23 years as managing editor and editor — in charge of the news and opinion pages, along with a multimillion-dollar budget and nearly 150 reporters, editors, artists, photographers and more. I was also a column writer with the self-appointed role of standing up for free speech and press, access to public records and open meetings, as well as being the ombudsman heralding the paper’s successes and explaining why we did things the way we did when controversy arose.

When I interviewed for the job, I was asked about my politics. Though I had written columns over the years, I was not steeped in politics. I said I was a liberal, but a fiscal conservative. It took me a couple of years to discover the label for my politics all along was libertarian.

Over the years I had come up with policies for newsroom staff, such as no comps. A reviewer could accept a ticket for a show being reviewed but no other. I spelled out when anonymous sources could be used and why. I insisted a supervisor approve and must know the source’s name and reason for anonymity.

For my last few months I had the title — and it was title only — of senior opinion editor. I wrote columns, but with a different tack, as well as editorials and opinion pieces on topics of the day at the bidding of the new publisher.

The beginning of the end came about a week after Harry Reid was re-elected, I was called into a front office to learn that the newspaper’s longtime publisher and CEO of the parent media company had been replaced with a new publisher and a separate person as CEO and that I had the choice of leaving with a modest severance package or stay on with a new job. It took me awhile to realize I had made a mistake by staying, for more reasons than I care to explain.

I asked repeatedly why I was being ousted, what I had done to deserve this treatment after decades of loyal service and incredibly long hours. I got no answer, just some mumbling about change. Not change for the better, just change. I later learned that the room I was in was like the end of the chute at the slaughterhouse. A half a dozen other longtime executives in departments across the building were being shown the door that very day. So my suspicions about the re-election of Reid — who the paper had editorially strongly opposed with the support and encouragement of the owners — being the cause of the coup were placed into question, though not completely dismissed.

Nevada is an at-will state. Unless you have a contract, you can be terminated for cause, no cause or whim.

It is no consolation that both the new publisher and new CEO have both since been terminated. And it is with considerable chagrin that I contemplate the several dozen top editors and reporters who were let go in what was doubtless a bid to improve the bottom line and facilitate the recent sale of the entire newspaper chain to another soulless chain.

There is not a day goes by that I don’t think about those people whose lives were upended without the courtesy of an explanation. A few familiar bylines remain, but not many. Some have landed on their feet, others on hard times. To the bosses they were just nameless, faceless pieces on the game board. I miss them and the hustle of daily journalism and being an integral part of the community.

When I now look out from that parking garage, it is just a city of meandering people trying to do their jobs and live their lives with dignity, never knowing when or why the wrecking ball will fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17 comments on “Four years after: On the whims, happenstances and vicissitudes, dude

  1. Bruce Feher says:

    This is nothing new. My Step Dad worked for the same company for over 40 years, experienced several changes in management and ownership, When he died all my Mom got was a lousy $114 a month pension and this was 35 years ago.
    Currently, I have a friend that works at the unemployment office where they see on a regular basis older workers getting let go for BS reasons so new less costly workers can be hired. That’s how corporate America rolls, always has, always will!

  2. Is it true that most of the press outlets are owned by less than a dozen big money corporations ?

  3. ronknecht says:

    Mitch, you did a great job, and this column was very moving. I’m one of those folks who is forever in your debt for all you’ve done and continue to do. And one of your biggest fans. Proud to call you a friend and looking forward to doing so or a long time.

    RK

    Ron Knecht Economist & Nevada Controller 775-882-2935 775-684-5777 http://www.RonKnecht.com

  4. nyp says:

    You know, Mr. Mitchell, notwithstanding our profound political differences I have sympathy for what you and your family went through. It is a bad thing to be tossed like an old rag doll.

    On the other hand … as someone who often deals with termination and resignation issues in other countries, I believe very strongly that the American “at will employment” doctrine is a good thing and that labor rigidity is one of the reasons why some many other countries have economies that are less dynamic than ours. That fact does not lessen the difficulties that you and other people who are badly treated by their employers experience. But I don’t think it is a problem that should be addressed legally.

  5. Steve says:

    When Kodak downsized me, they first looked for volunteers. They actually got one in the district. But it was not enough to save my job. By not volunteering I bought another 2 months.
    Kodak then involuntarily downsized me. The difference was insignificant. Kodak REALLY knew how to downsize, I guess from lots of experience…. I did manage to find other employment quickly but I miss that job at Kodak. It was very good, working on Nexpress with the possibility of Digimaster and even Prosper. There is one person still working,locally for Kodak and he still does not have any Digimasters or Prospers to work on…only the very few Nexpress’s here.
    Kodak’s benefits were good, there is not one other place of employment that gives its employees 60 sick days a year and I even have one of those extremely rare “defined benefit” pensions as long as Kodak survives in to the future…if it fails then the PBGB kicks in and I would get at least some of it, have to wait and see.
    The severance was good…getting the current job helped it be better. For a few months I double dipped.

    As a result I have enough bank to last (at current spending) for 3 years.

    But I still miss that job and my new employer is the perfect model of dysfunction and inefficiency. Each time demonstrated by adding hours to my already long day at sites installing new equipment. (Dysfunction and inefficiency were in the Kodak structure too but nowhere near as bad as this 5000 employee company. That may seem strange, though it really is not. (Kodak failed for perfecting its one moneymaking product, film. The demise of film is what bankrupted Kodak. Otherwise, Kodak was very well run.)

    They did screw you, Tom. They used the temptation of continuing to write for the RJ as a bait and switch. It is as though they knew you would fall to the temptation. I do not believe there is any legal course in Nevada for that. Maybe you could say they conned you… California would be a bit different.

    I plan on finding another place of employment but will not willingly fire the present employer. The job is not an easy one to replace. Company vehicle, incredibly flexible hours, health insurance etc.
    Nevertheless, “At Will” works both ways.

  6. iShrug says:

    Mitch, thanks so much for sharing your story, and your perspective. I always enjoy reading your blog, and the articles you link to. You likely have more influence than you realize. The research you do to illustrate your points is impressive. The Las Vegas Newspaper has degraded to advertisements, presented as news stories, and they provide zero in the way of sources. Thanks for doing what you do.

  7. John Smith says:

    Really compelling stuff.

    Sent from my iPhone

  8. Thanks for the feedback.

  9. A source tells me the copyeditors and paginators have been told their jobs will be handled by central desk in Austin … Texas, not Nevada.

  10. Steve says:

    Austin…..

    Well there it is. A great place for music but a horrible place for politics.

  11. Mike says:

    Tom
    All of what we are seeing around us is a problem of a dying currency. I know this sounds incredibly simplistic but that is what is happening. Our government had discovered years ago (‘deficits don’t matter’) that it could spend without annoying the taxpayers and then went on to realize that taxpayers were just an annoyance themselves. It continued with billions becoming trillions until we are where we are now. We are hopelessly in debt and the world is on the verge of deciding that they don’t want to continue to save in a paper that can be printed at will by the USA. They don’t want that kind of power in the hands of Washington politicians and central bankers.
    In 2012 they finally stopped accumulating our script (no net increases though they still buy some when what they already hold comes due). The post Bretton Woods system is being allowed to die and I’m sure some new improved system is in the works.
    All around us we are seeing the results of the response of the Fed to this activity. It creates new money and it goes to malinvestment. Nothing has to work properly, there just has to be a place for the money to go. Friends of the government are kept alive long after their funeral should have been scheduled (think GM but also ge and many industries that are no longer truly competitive.)
    I suspect the mergers we are seeing and the kind of result that cost you your job are part of the package. Quality is tossed overboard as the ship must be kept afloat even though all know it will sink.
    Sites like ZeroHedge document the fraud while the mainstream media continues to cheerlead. Those who won’t cheer are fired. I don’t think you were willing to cheer.
    This really will end and probably soon (though I am now wrong for the 5th year straight.
    Some of us think we know where we are heading, hell I bet most people think they know where we are heading but some of us have spent a lot of time trying to see the big picture that unfolds at the death of a fiat currency. That picture has played over 50 times in the past 100 years. The death of a fiat currency that is also the reserve currency held by all the world’s central banks has never happened though. Seeing that picture requires a unique perspective. I hope it is the one I’m using.
    Many more will likely lose jobs and worse a generation will go without jobs. These systems we design are often grown with a fatal flaw that promises failure in the long run. Jacques Rueff saw the problems in our current system in the 1950s and Robert Triffin spelled it out for Congress in 1960. As we grind down to the last days all we can do is prepare and hope for the best. I’m not seeing much reason to sustain hope so I’m back to preparing.
    Good luck with yours.

  12. Athos says:

    What sort of world have we given ourselves, Tom? To have that cretin, Greid, re-elected in 2010 left the sourest taste my mouth. He’s the absolute poster child of what’s wrong with our government, and our society. What part of “absolute power corrupts absolutely” does our fellow Nevadan’s not understand? Maybe it’s more along the lines of “he’s a lowlife thief, but he’s OUR thief!” I don’t know.

    And then it was followed by Zero’s beat down of Mittens (RomneyCare, anyone?) in 2012.

    Much of this is due to our generation turning its back on God. And the selfishness that’s coming back to bite us in the backside. We didn’t want responsibility, so we had no kids (and abortion was the convenient trouble free life). Now there’s no one left to prop up the Ponzi scheme known as SS and we will pay that price….sooner than later. I can’t even contemplate the price my kids will pay.

    And Mike is correct (in my estimation) that the world is tired of being bullied by corrupt DC politicians and big bankers from the US, and when China is included into the “basket of currencies” (probably this October) there will be a dynamic power change in the world of money.

    How will this affect us? I don’t know. Look! There’s a squirrel! Over there!

    Or better…..”Pay no attention to the man over there. I am the great and powerful OZ!”

  13. Winston Smith says:

    Tom: I just want to thank you and Vin and the gang for showing me how a newspaper’s editorial board doesn’t have to be lapdogs for big government. Coming from Seattle, I thought that the Seattle Times was a conservative paper, but after moving to Vegas in 1990, I realized that it was conservative only in comparison to the other major rag, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    Mike: I appreciate your take on the USD, and it’s ongoing demise. Certainly the Russians and Chinese are watching closely, if not working to bring it on sooner. Of course, the Chinese are sitting on a mountain of US cash that they are apparently trying to unload, one way or another.

    And Steve, I enjoyed the long version of The End, hadn’t seen that before. Here’s a little something for you (and maybe DARPA):

  14. As the Dems like to say: It is unsustainable.

  15. Michael Hiesiger says:

    Mitch, I would say your departure was far from unlamented – at least not by those in the newsroom.

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