In April of 2001, I posted what I believe to be the best letter ever written by a journalist as he left a newsroom. The author is Mark Schlueb, who was laid off from the Akron Beacon Journal, a Knight Ridder paper eleven years ago.
Here’s what Schlueb, now City Hall reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, wrote to CEO Tony Ridder:
Dear Mr. Ridder,
I wanted to write and tell you what a fine time I’ve had working for the Akron Beacon Journal. (That’s a newspaper your company owns in Northeast Ohio.) I’ve only worked here since last June, but I’ve had an opportunity to uncover plenty of great stories, and put them into what I consider the best newspaper in Ohio. (Ohio is a state in the Midwest.) All the while, I’ve been able to work with the most talented group of writers and reporters with whom I’ve ever had the privilege to associate. It’s been very inspiring — in fact, my desk is only about 20 feet from John S. Knight’s old typewriter, which is now kept behind glass.
Of course, you’re cutting these fine people off at the knees, you asshole. How do you expect the dedicated and loyal reporters at the Beacon Journal to keep putting out a quality paper when you’re eliminating nearly a quarter of the reporting staff? You faceless corporate hacks take a break from your golf game long enough to scream that circulation must stay up, but then you order arbitrary budget cuts that force the elimination of entire sections of the Sunday paper. And when that’s not enough, you order layoffs that eliminate the very employees who have helped keep circulation from falling. Seriously, the kid who changes the oil in my car could run Knight Ridder with more foresight than you.
I brought my wife and two children to Akron — a thousand miles from our native Florida, where I had a secure job and other offers — to work at the Beacon Journal. The editors here were able to attract me with the excellent reputation they and John S. Knight had built over a period of decades. In just a few months, you’ve managed to wreck everything they built. How many top-notch reporters will choose to move to Akron, if they would face the prospect of working at an understaffed, demoralized newspaper?
Maybe I should have seen this coming. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Knight Ridder budget cuts gutted the Miami Herald. Remember what happened then? There was a mass exodus of talented reporters, and the Herald is a shadow of its former self.
Don’t worry about me; I’ll land on my feet. I don’t regret coming here, even though I’ve been laid off now. In fact, my only regret is that you haven’t come to visit the Beacon Journal. I would have loved to piss on your shoes.
—Mark Schlueb, former staff writer, Akron Beacon Journal
Four years later Schlueb told the Beacon Journal’s alumni publication that “I don’t understand why a letter I dashed off in 20 minutes has received such attention. I don’t think anyone would pay any attention to an autoworker who wrote a nasty letter to his boss, and I’m not sure why this is different.”
I asked Schlueb via email what he thought of Greg Smith’s resignation letter. I’ll post his response when/if it comes in. UPDATE: “I’ll be out of the office and not checking messages until Monday, March 19,” says his auto-reply.