February 5, 2018
Cool story, bro: A fired newspaper editor painted himself as a would-be Lilly Ledbetter; the women he’s worked with aren’t as sure
by Susan Rella
If you’re looking to be an ally to women in this exciting post-Weinstein, #metoo moment, perhaps don’t use women’s pay equality as a prop in public rants against your former employers.
And if you do, then maybe really don’t have a somewhat long and clearly defined history of marginalizing women?
Such appears to be the story of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Good, who, until his firing late last month, was executive editor at Newspapers of New England’s Pioneer Valley newspaper group. According to reporting by Erik Wemple in the Washington Post, Good sent an email to his former colleagues, titled “My firing, your fair pay,” where he fearlessly told his side of the story:
Publisher Mike Rifanburg informed me this week that I am being fired. The reason: I advocated for transparency and fair pay for our female colleagues at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and its sister publications.
Wow. What a rock star, right? Apparently, the group has a long and storied history of paying men more than women. Recently, some pay increases did come about under Good’s direction, after several female staffers complained that they were making significantly less than their male counterparts. And these raises, as one would expect, led to more and more female employees coming forward demanding fair pay. Good names three of them, then goes on to quote Rifanburg as calling these second-wave raise-seekers “girls” and “selfish young ladies.”
But Good, according to himself, stuck to his guns, demanding greater transparency on pay issues, including a town hall-style meeting. Instead, he was canned. But his heroics didn’t end there. Wemple writes that he turned down a generous severance package because an accompanying non-disparagement clause would have prevented him from blowing the whistle on the pay inequalities. This Good guy is obviously one of the good guys. He sticks to his guns.
Or so it appeared, until several former colleagues reached out to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Let’s hear from Laurie Loisel, managing editor of the Hampshire Gazette and a twenty-nine-year veteran of the paper before she left in 2015: “Jeff is not the hero he makes himself out to be,” she told Poynter’s James Warren. Loisel was demoted by Good, and accuses him of “marginalizing women.”
Kathleen Mellon, the long-established arts editor at the Gazette and a member of the editorial board before she left in 2017, was more negative: “I was one of the several he ran out of the paper,” she told Warren. “I left a year ago under incredible duress.” Both women agreed that pay parity had been a contentious issue at the Gazette, and both felt that Good in no way deserves the moniker of ally. Mellon says she fought “tooth and nail over wages with him,” and they both characterized his track record with women as “poor.”
Some current employees, too, were less than thrilled with Good’s farewell email. Photojournalist Sarah Crosby told Stephanie Ebbert at the Boston Globe that she is “relieved that pay parity is now being discussed across the newsroom.” Of Good’s accountability to women at the Gazette, Loisel told Ebbert, “He hired them, and he hired the men, and he told them what they were getting paid. And now he’s trying to act like he’s the hero.”
Crosby also offered a short statement, published in the Post:
The several closed-door meetings Jeff and I had continued a culture that was secretive, stressful and difficult to move the issue forward in. Additionally, I am disappointed in Jeff’s decision to name me and two other women in his company-wide email without our consent and without notifying us.
Of course, it’s great to see women’s pay equality taken seriously and discussed with gravity. As for heaping praise on allies, though, maybe we should be wary about fawning over those who write their own adulations. In retrospect, it’s kind of fishy that Good would need to be the one to sing Good’s praises, if he had in fact worked so hard on behalf of his female colleagues. Which brings us, really, to the main point: maybe we should be, oh, I dunno, listening to women?
Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.