CQ Stomps Out Newsroom Dissent

Setting a bad example by firing a veteran editor for impertinence

When the human-resources folks come for you, and in journalism these days that’s not infrequent, you have to hope somebody like Brian Nutting has your back.

Nutting is the Congressional Quarterly editor who sent an email to the newsroom last week saying “We need answers” after CQ, now quasi-merged with Roll Call, eliminated forty-four (19 percent) of the combined newsroom staff.

Now before you go saying other newspapers and magazines have cut more, know that both CQ and Roll Call are profitable and that CQ, at least, still has double-digit annual revenue growth, according to PaidContent’s Rafat Ali.

Hasn’t the news industry learned by now that you can’t cut your way to prosperity? Fatten those profit margins in the short term, rather than reinvesting in your newsroom, and you’ll pay it for it in the long term. I guarantee it.

This is partially what Nutting was getting at in his email, which swiftly leaked to MediaBistro, last week asking pertinent questions about the forty-four layoffs:

The newsroom needs to hear in person from those who are responsible for today’s announcement. Someone in authority should appear before us to attempt to justify the actions announced.

In July, when the sale of CQ was announced, we were told that both Roll Call and CQ are profitable.

We were told that the Economist and CQ had many shared values.
We were told that “there is a higher purpose to what we do.”
We were told that the people in the company were highly valued.

And now this.

What possible justification can there be for throwing people out of their jobs simply to make MORE money?

I would like to know who has been laid off. What is the CQ/Roll Call breakdown on jobs that will be lost?

Why are people being laid off? Was a reduction in staff size through attrition considered?

Make that forty-five layoffs now.

CQ fired Nutting today for his email and for “not showing remorse” for sending it, according to an MB source:

The Gestapo at CQ just fired Brian Nutting…..Because he refused to apologize to Laurie Battaglia. He apparently said “hell no, why would I apologize? I meant it.”

27 years there. And this way, they get out of paying him severance.

CQ did not return my call requesting comment.

This is a terrible signal for a news organization to send its journalists. Ask pointed questions of the powers-that-be too loudly and you’re out on your keister, even if you’ve put twenty-seven years of your life into the newsroom and are widely admired there and by alumni, as I’m told Nutting was.

You might even say such a turn of events is a look at at least part of what’s wrong with journalism today. We need more people like Brian Nutting who speak truth to power and stand up for what’s right—and fewer careerists who put their heads down and meekly play the game.

I think most people would be shocked to learn how little dissent exists in the modern newsroom today.

As Amy Gahran told me on Twitter: “Amazing how many journ/news orgs are all for free speech UNLESS it means they get criticized/questioned.”

A journalist who questions authority? My God!

CQ-Roll Call ought to be ashamed of itself.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.