Reactions to Harris’ Resignation

Austin Long-Scott, journalism professor, San Francisco State University

We see, tragically, how when marketplace values rule in medicine, the best medical care goes to the highest bidder, and those who can least afford to pay do without.  We see, tragically, how when marketplace values rule in law, the best legal advice goes to the highest bidder, and those who can least afford to pay do without.  When marketplace values rule in journalism, the most reliable news goes to the highest bidder, and those who can least afford to pay do without.  Jay Harris' resignation in protest of marketplace values reminds us of the need to fight to preserve all those uplifting human values that get trampled down so easily in the marketplace.  That's why the poster titled "Publisher as Hero" went up throughout the Mercury News newsroom last week.

Ted Glasser, director of Stanford University’s Graduate Journalism Program

Jay Harris's resignation serves as a vivid reminder that journalists ought be thinking seriously and creatively about alternative models of newsroom ownership and control.

A couple of related points:

It's still not clear what happened.  Harris said he quit in protest, that he wanted his Knight Ridder bosses to "closely examine the wisdom of corporate profit targets."  But profit targets are nothing new at Knight Ridder and elsewhere.  Why, suddenly, is Harris concerned about them? 

Profit targets make sense when they involve no layoffs but somehow make less sense when newsrooms are expected to shrink? 

Also, apparently Steve Rossi, president of the KR newspaper division, promised Harris that there wouldn't be layoffs.  Why, then, resign?  David Yarnold reported that KR agreed to reduce the profit targets for the Mercury News.  Was this done before or after Harris resigned?  And reduced from what to what?  What difference will it make?  Will the quality of the Mercury News still suffer, as Harris suggested in his resignation e-mail?

That we have no answers to these questions points to the least remarkable aspect of this story--the inability of the press to cover itself.  The weakest of the stories I've seen have been the ones in the Mercury News.   There's been no statement by Rossi , Jerry Ceppos, or CEO Tony Ridder.   No enterprise reporting at all.  And, incredibly, no editorial on
a local issue that's getting national attention.  Shame on the Mercury News for demonstrating that being accountable to the public means saying as little as possible.

Larry Jinks, former Knight Ridder executive and publisher of the Mercury News

I do think there are serious issues there and I think that Jay wanted to make a very serious statement despite what it meant to him personally.  In addition to the core conflict on where the lines would be drawn in the face of declining revenues, there may have been some communication problems.

Jay is a good friend of mine, but there are people on the other side I have a good bit of respect for. I think it would be helpful for the industry if there would be more open discussion of the kind of issues Jay is raising.”

There are ethics that are in conflict. There is a dilemma that all publicly-held and other media companies need to be wrestling with. The struggle has to be with how you draw the lines. There’s the question of how short-term or long-term those judgments are.


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