In response, Olsen resigned, along with two reporters—Adam Shanks and Billy Shannon. None of them wanted to resign. All are from Hudson or nearby towns, and many gave up more prestigious jobs to work at their community newspaper and serve its more than 4,000 subscribers. Olsen started at the paper as a reporter in 2009 before leaving to work at a law firm and then the Watertown Daily Times, a paper in
nearby* Watertown, NY with a circulation of over 20,000. She returned to the Register-Star late last year and, had she not resigned, this week would be her first anniversary as city editor. Shannon started as a sportswriter at the paper before taking time off to attend the Columbia Journalism School; he returned earlier this year as the crime and courts reporter. Shanks was working his first job after college.
Those who resigned are passionate about their decision, but do not begrudge those who stayed. “The reporters who stayed are excellent reporters,” said Shanks. “I’m a young guy, I’ll be okay, [but] not everyone’s in the same situation I am. Not everyone could do what I did.” What really matters to him is that “everyone signed the letter.”
The news of Casey’s firing and the resignations of Olsen, Shanks, and Shannon began to spread beyond Hudson after local blogger Sam Pratt reported the story and Romenesko picked it up. Coleman and Hyland finally responded to the incident with a statement published on the Register-Star’s website on Friday afternoon. (Other than referring to that statement, Coleman did not comment to CJR and Hyland could not be reached.) The statement is remarkably defensive. In it, Coleman and Hyland imply that Casey was trying to censor the news, writing that “when it comes to the news business, there are two types of people: those who will do anything to get something in and those who will do anything to keep it out.”
Casey said that he left out the incident not because he wanted to censor it but because he (and the rest of the newsroom) believed it was not a newsworthy incident, given that no one at the meeting reacted to it or contacted him afterwards to complain. Coleman and Hyland have an answer to that point, and it involves a series of fairly absurd hypotheticals: “if [public outcry] is what determines if something is newsworthy, then stories about Jim Crow laws may never have been reported…another reason given as to why this wasn’t news was because the initial exchange only took a few seconds. So does murder.”
More than anything, Coleman and Hyland’s statement betrays a deep disdain for their (former) reporters. Casey, not Coleman or Hyland, was the one at the meeting; unless his article is nothing more than a full transcript of it, he is going to use his news judgment to determine what parts of the meeting are most newsworthy and relevant to his audience.
So what’s next for Casey, Olsen, Shanks, and Shannon? None of them have full-time jobs lined up, though Shannon is working on a fiction piece for Kindle Singles. “We might start a local blog,” Olsen offered. It would be a natural step to take, given that the four of them have all the sources and community knowledge that comes with Hudson’s paper of record. And they all have the news judgment and journalistic integrity to be great reporters and editors.
*A reader notes that Watertown and Hudson are some 200 miles apart.