International Writers Magazine: Comment
IN THE PRESS ROOM
Systematic Assassination of a Westchester Institution
of a hometome newspaper
A good friend and colleague of mine, and one of my sports editors during
the early 90s, Ray Gallagher was unceremoniously sacked from the North
County News. After 17 years of tireless efforts over countless hours
of shedding significant light on athletes, coaches, programs, and schools
in the Westchester, NY area, he was asked to leave with no warning or
vacation or sick time earned.
The company reason?
The conflict of a second job working for the Putnam Valley
Parks & Recreation Department, a post Gallagher has held with pride
and care for the past five years. A job he takes seriously to help the
kids he will cover in the coming years achieve their dreams in athletics,
and one, let's face it, he had to get to supplement the atrociously
low compensation accompanying a hard-working local sports editor.
The real reason?
Perhaps the ultimate demise of the small town weekly to
save a buck or sate an ego.
Whatever the reason, seems the razing of the staff with
little-to-no compensation is more the norm than the exception at the
North County News these days.
Be that as it may, this unconscionable crime against not
only quality sports journalism, (NY State award winner for best weekly
sports section 15 of the 17 years Gallagher helmed it) but the toil
and sweat of a dedicated community hero cannot stand. In my many years
in sports journalism -- a despicable trade inhabited by sub-mental sops
and sad-sack gambling addicts -- I never met a writer with more integrity
and guts than Ray. I was proud to work for him, know him, and most importantly,
Gallagher's struggles to help bring high school sports
to Putnam County and the selfless campaign to help make the high school
a reality and making sure all the area kids were well-equipped and respected
in and around the varied sections should have garnered him a statue,
instead of this apparent dime-store flim-flammery perpetuated by cheap
hacks and scurrilous purveyors of yellow schmaltz.
Admittedly, I consider Ray a friend, and I tend to view
most publishers and other literary vipers as mutating forms of a bilious
disease oozing over the damaged organism known as journalism. So I'm
biased. But then I set out to interview another former member of the
NCN staff on an unrelated subject. Before resigning from the paper this
week, uber-scribe Rita J. King backed up Gallagher's allegations of
megalomaniacal bullying performed by new publisher, Bruce Apar.
"Every publication has room for improvement, and when
I found out a publisher had been hired, I looked forward to the changes
that would take place," King recalls. "But Bruce Apar's treatment
of the North County News staff, supported by the company's management,
was dehumanizing, and resulted in a round of immediate terminations
According to other reliable sources within the paper's
staff -- many of whom either fear for their jobs or have since abandoned
ship -- Apar, along with general manager Carla Chase, appear to be systematically,
if not clumsily, attempting to "drag the paper into the ground
as some kind of write-off."
"Someone should write about this," one source
told me last week. "Because this is really about the death of the
Okay, so maybe the paper is taking a financial beating
and needs to clean house. I understand this. Business is business. Sometimes
a fine magazine or newspaper is trashed for the bottom line. I'm a big
boy. Ray's a big boy. But why refuse to pay the man his due or take
the low road by not allowing Gallagher to say goodbye to many of his
faithful readers or demand he return his laptop and camera equipment
as if he were a common thief? And why did they remove his archives from
their web site as if he never existed?
We don't know, because several calls to the paper, and
specifically Mr.Apar, have gone unanswered. But Apar is apparently only
a symptom of a greater problem inside a once proud local institution.
According to several former employees, the spate of staff harassment
has been an inherent part of working for the NCN in recent years.
"The PR director relishes firing people,"
a high-ranking official at the paper told me this week. "Apar isn't
doing anything they don't support in Human Resources and at the top
levels of the company."
Does this include dumping employees on flimsy grounds
and withholding benefits?
"I might have better understood their actions if
they had been professional about it, but they were just plain mean spirited,"
Gallagher told me this week. "My dismissal couldn't have been on
economic grounds; I increased the circulation of that newspaper by the
thousands when I decided to expand the coverage area from six high schools
to 14 from 1996 to 2000, despite an increased workload for my staff."
King also felt the flak she endured was of dubious merit.
"Apar didn't want to run one my columns because he
found it too 'self-referential,' and he made it clear that all writers
will follow his editorial philosophy," King told me. "Yet
the newspaper that week was full of his own self-references, including
in the editorial section and in the form of two large photographs. With
such contradictions riddling his 'editorial philosophy', it was impossible
to know what was expected of us."
After extensive discussions with several present and former
employees of the paper a rather odious string of events began to emerge,
not the least of which are the alleged demotions from full-time to part-time
positions and/or the outright firing of employees to avoid providing
their health benefits.
Again, despite numerous inquires on these allegations
to the North County News management, nary a response.
But no response is necessary, right? They can do whatever
they want. It's their paper. If anything illegal or unethical has been
done, one hopes action will be taken and reparations would be in order.
Otherwise you can make up any old reason to drop someone. No one is
owed anything. No one is entitled to be treated fairly. Fairness is
illusion. Lord knows I've earned a living in this miserable vocation
long enough to realize that.
But if the business is news, and the enterprise is a media
outlet, whether the NY Times or a hometown weekly, than the public needs
to know how the business is being run. The public needs to know that
the reporters, columnists, and photographers who work the community
to the best of their ability are being treated shoddily and that the
quality of the coverage and writing is taking a backseat to cutting
costs or some base form of insane egomania.
So if destroying a wonderful newspaper like the North
County News is the goal, than the powers that be are accomplishing their
mission with dizzying speed. But if the goal is to improve content by
stomping out the talent, then these people are even stupider than they
appear. And that's the problem with management types, they think they're
the paper because they sign the checks or make the rules. But there
isn't a publishing cretin on this planet that could turn a phrase or
cover a story or capture an opinion with all the hissy office tantrums
in the world -- not without a dedicated staff.
I say let the NCN crumble. It wouldn't be the first time
the ham-fisted wannabees wrecked a good thing, and it won't be the last.
Ray Gallagher may be out of a gig for now, but he's still
the best damn sportswriter in Westchester County. He just does it now
from his new web site, www.yourdirectrays.com
or a competing newspaper soon, instead of a doomed rag run by low-rent
© James Campion September 1st 2006
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