Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to Digital First Media’s Philadelphia-area publisher Edward Condra from Evan Brandt, an award-winning reporter from the Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Mercury. It has been slightly shortened from the original version.
From: Evan Brandt
Date: 8/13/17 2:03 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: Edward Condra
Subject: I am ashamed ….
… to look at our front pages today.
Ed, you once chided me for venting on Facebook about our failures and poor judgement as a company and said I should give you a chance to fix it first.
This is it.
As you may know, certainly not from reading any of our papers or visiting most of our web sites, there was a major incident in Charlottesville Virginia that an entire nation is talking about.
There is no morning mention of it anywhere on the front pages of the majority of DFM’s proud properties.
All we had on The Mercury site, and that was added after noon, was a piece that is at best a sidebar, about what the President said about the event. Further, nothing about the attack was posted on our Facebook page until I put that lame piece up at 1:15 p.m. (While not working or being paid.)
It was not even mentioned in our “Regional Morning Briefing.” Why? Because it was probably put together two days ago.
So why, we must ask, did this failure of a news organization occur? The answer is simple. THERE’S NO ONE WORKING BECAUSE WE HAVE NO STAFF!
And if I’m wrong, and there were people working, the fact that they did nothing is even more disappointing and I should hope, worrisome to you.
Having people work seven days a week without being compensated is not a successful business model. That’s a pipe dream and no way to staff a newsroom if you have even the slightest interest in reporting the news.
I don’t know enough about the work schedules or vacation schedules of all the “content managers” in our cluster to offer an informed opinion on who should have done what so I will refrain.
But some things are obvious.
How is it that Trenton was able to do the right thing and put the story on its front page and no one else? That’s seems like a question worth asking.
In fact there are plenty of questions that I would think should be asked in the wake of this debacle.
What is not in question is that the result is an unqualified embarrassment and business failure.
Can you imagine the traffic we would be generating on our web sites, on mobile, if we were actually posting wire stories about one of the most important national stories of our time? In real time? And not on a Monday 9 to 5 schedule?
It’s not even that hard. Have someone come in early, watch the wire and post updates. That’s one, maybe two people and they could have done it for all the sites in the cluster.
Why was no one called in to work? Paid extra to work on their day off? I would have come in.
We all know the answer to that — “money.” The result? No one is in charge and there’s no one to call someone in.
In fact, a forward-thinking operation would have realized that being on top of this event digitally and in print would have earned not only circulation and readership boosts, which means more money, but cemented in our readers’ and advertisers’ minds that we are the place to turn to when something happens and that builds customer loyalty.
Instead, we literally did nothing until 1:30 Sunday afternoon for a story that began to develop Friday night.
Digital First Media failed both our readers and our corporate owners today. And if you don’t share my embarrassment at our poor performance, I’m not entirely sure why you’re in the news business.
I look forward to hearing your proposed solutions.
Reporter and NewsGuild Editorial Shop Steward