Register-Star publisher Roger Coleman and editor Theresa Hyland have issued a joint statement outlining their reasons for the dismissal and version of the Tom Casey firing.
Coming a full and tumultuous week after Casey declined to put his byline on a news story, and amid increasing media scrutiny, the statement among other things seeks to justify their apparently keen interest in who stands for the Pledge of Allegiance at Hudson Common Council meetings, and who doesn’t.
The statement appears to be a response primarily to a letter of protest signed by virtually all of the paper’s key editorial staff. It does not address, however, the circumstances surrounding the subsequent resignations of City editor Francesca Olsen and two additional reporters, Adam Shanks and Billy Shannon. Nor does it really make a convincing case why Casey’s action should have amounted to a firing offense, rather than a “teachable moment” as other staff suggested.
Coleman and Hyland write on the one hand that “the repeated refusal and support of that refusal to report this story uncovered a lack of news judgment in our newsroom.” They then go on to claim that “no one was fired for disagreeing with his or her supervisor.” This begs the question: What was the reporter fired for, then?
Even if one charitably accepts Coleman and Hyland’s version of events and explanation of their reasoning, it remains that many Register-Star reporters are either young, or in their first journalism job, or both; and per Billy Shannon’s letter of resignation, they work for “dismal pay.” So if the management of the paper does not want to pay for experienced reporters, one would think they would acknowledge that they are going to have some learning on the job to do, especially if management has some non-intuitive expectations.
Another curious aspect of the statement comes when the pair deny writing the two controversial paragraphs which caused the dispute. Despite this denial, the letter does not clearly specify whether Casey drafted the problematic paragraphs under duress—or if they were written by another staffer (such as an unnamed editor, as first alleged by a well-placed source).
A separate source has provided a more detailed chronology of what occurred, supporting the duress scenario: After filing his original budget story on Thursday night, Casey was ordered by management to come back to the newsroom and add the paragraphs dealing with the Pledge to it. After doing so, he evidently thought better of acquiescing to this demand, and alerted the newsroom that he wanted his byline removed from the story. On Friday afternoon, Casey was fired—but according to one account, not before he managed to complete three stories he’d been working on.
(Note: This site invited both Coleman and Hyland on Sunday morning to address any inaccuracies in the contours of the story as it was relayed to this site by well-placed sources. Neither of the two responded in over 48 hours wait time before the story broke here.)
In another unusual passage, the pair express their total incredulity—at one point using ALLCAPS—that it was not deemed newsworthy when an Alderman did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The ridiculousness of these hypothetical examples (an Alderman singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” or wearing a sign saying “ask me about my grandkids”) seems to inadvertently verify that the publisher and editor deemed John Friedman’s quiet decision as outrageously outlandish.