Columbus Messenger, Me and Unprofessional
Today I received a call from John Matuszak, managing editor of the Columbus Messenger Newspapers. Mr. Matuszak requested that I remove the fact that I am a former photojournalist for the Messenger from a site I've made and administer (Prairie Township Online) because that site is not endorsed by the Messenger.
Mr. Matuszak asked me to do this in a fairly professional manner, but I am declining from honoring his request for a few reasons. First of all, many of the readers of the Messenger have wanted to continue seeing my work, and using the name of my former employer helps them find my articles when searching the Internet. Second of all, it's a fact that I worked for the Messenger for almost three years, and I can advertise that fact however I see fit.
Mr. Matuszak then implied that I ought to let the readers know why I am now a former Messenger employee. Well I will gladly explain that as well. Quite simply, the Messenger fired me. And I have no fear of anyone learning the truth. The last time I was in the Messenger offices, Matuszak told me that he had to let me go because, according to him, I was "unprofessional". So if anyone wants to know why I was fired, let it be known that I was "unprofessional". Of course, I was fired after I told the Messenger that if they wouldn't start paying me more responsibly and consistently, I'd leave.
But let me also tell you that the feeling about "unprofessional-ism” was reciprocated towards the Messenger management. The standards at the Messenger never were very high, in my opinion--and I often voiced this to my editors. I constantly expressed my view that more needs to be done to improve the quality of the publication (which meant, to me, focusing more on educational, academic and scientific topics as well as adding more creative content such as cartoons, games, etc). And, moreover, I expressed great annoyance with the fact that the Messenger had a very poor system of paying its freelance employees.
One week I'd get paid $30 for a photo, the next I'd get paid $15 for a similar photo. One week I'd get paid $25 for a report, the next week a similar report was worth $20. There was no consistency or set of standards. And because of a poor system of keeping records of freelance work, the manager in charge of giving out payroll would often miss work that I had done and would leave my paycheck short. Now I can admit that I'm a little bit biased, but that can be defined as rather "unprofessional" if you ask me.
During my last conversation with Matuszak back in 2002, I said that I resented the fact that the more efficient and effective I became as a photographer and reporter, the more my pay scale was going down. Matuszak said that I had no room to complain since other journalist who had "paid their dues" were not seeing pay increases either--implying the fact that my educational background was not sufficient to meet his "professional" standards. That's kind of backwards, I think. Most well managed companies tend to reward their employees for growing and developing, regardless of formal educational backgrounds.
Backwards is how I would define the managing and production system at the Columbus Messenger over the time I worked there. The Messenger was still employing a system of cut-and-paste in 2000! I'm not talking about cut-and-paste graphics, I'm talking about cut-and-paste layout with scissors and sticky paste. They were doing this in 2000 still because they were too short-sighted (in my opinion) to see the advantages in time and money and quality until long after all other (well) managed publications had turned everything over to digital production. As far as I know, the Columbus Messenger is now using computers instead of scissors... but it took them a long time to get there.
Backwards is their approach to progress. In 2002 I tried to convince the owner to build a website. A partner and I even went so far as to build a prototype site for them with a database-driven engine that could handle all aspects of their management--the owner could have bought that project at the time for $3,500 (Now I'd charge an easy $5,000+ for the kind of site they would need to compliment their printed product). No, I was told by the owner, he had already taken steps to get a website done with another company. Well, it's been a couple years now... and instead of having a full-blown site, they have managed to put up a blank web page. Unprofessional? *(As of September 2005, they finally got a site up.)
But it all makes sense to me, really. One time I got a letter from some horse breeder south of Grove City. The letter said, "I usually pitch the Messenger without reading it. Then I stumbled onto a column by Shawn Olson. What a wonderfully articulate & thought provoking young man." I have to admit that the letter made me feel very good. Matuszak was quick to tell me, "Don't let it get to your head." I know I have just as much of an ego as the next person... but wouldn't an effective editorial manager be happy to have someone on the staff that gets complimented?
The Columbus Messenger has some good employees and good people. But I am not worried about a particular manager labeling me as "unprofessional" because his estimate is, in my opinion, without value.
Well in case you haven't figured it out, the Columbus Messenger does not endorse this site or any other site I've built. Hopefully that is not always the case... but officially that is the current state. I had many valuable learning experiences that opened up as a direct result of my time working for the Columbus Messenger, so for that I am appreciative. But I have nothing to hide about why I am no longer at the Columbus Messenger Newspapers. A particular manager fired me because he did not feel that I was cut out for the job; I personally feel the opinion lacked merit (my personal array of skills ranging in writing, photography, design and programming are uncommonly valuable).