Bullied, Literally, To Death

at least i'm not a bully
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Here’s a story to chill your blood — a boss whose bullying drove an employee to suicide:

The suicide of the managing editor at an Ellies-winning literary magazine late last month has sparked an investigation into alleged bullying by its editor — and is putting the publication’s long-term future in serious doubt.

Kevin Morrissey, the 52-year-old managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, took his own life on July 30. According to his family and several VQR staffers, in the weeks leading up to his death, Morrissey (pictured, right) had been subjected to bullying by his boss, 38-year-old editor-in-chief Ted Genoways (pictured, left).

“It was a toxic environment for Kevin,” VQR Web editor Waldo Jaquith told NBC News. “Ted’s treatment of Kevin during the last few weeks of his life was just egregious.”

And Genoways’ treatment of Kevin on the day of his death appeared to push Morrissey over the edge.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on July 30, Genoways sent an e-mail to Morrissey “accusing him of jeopardizing the life of a writer,” according to one account reported by The Hook, a local newsweekly. At 11:30 a.m., Morrissey called 911 to report a shooting near a coal tower in Charlottesville, Virginia. When police arrived, they found Morrissey dead, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

None of this surprises me at all. I’ve met some of the most toxic, brutal people in my life in journalism — all of them in positions of power:

The female trade magazine editor who routinely shouted abuse at everyone, even across a room filled with cubicles. Including curses.

The trade magazine publisher who spent his days, earning $150,000 in 1996, writing freelance articles for his magazines’ competitor. The one who stood in my office, shrieking at me like a five-year-old.

The newspaper photo editor, notorious in our city for his behavior, who shouted at me: “Your simple questions are the most complicated I’ve heard in 30 years.”

No point continuing.

If you have never been bullied at work, thank your god(s.) If you have, you know what an utter hell it is.

Not everyone who is bullied will choose to kill themself. But those who live are deeply scarred by it, their self-confidence shattered. It’s not something you quickly or easily shrug off. In a recession, who will quit even the most vicious of workplaces?

We all live in a bully culture. “You’re fired!”, sneered publicly, is the tagline of a popular television show. “Wipeout” shows people slipping, sliding and falling off an obstacle course.

It has to stop. It never will.

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Go Canada! Next Week's 'New Yorker' Filled With All-Canadian Advertising

Due to its soaring value against the American ...
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We’re not just hockey players and beer!

Check out the June 28 issue of the New Yorker — where every ad sold is from a Canadian institution, school or bank. The magazine has only done this once before, and the advertiser was Target.

This time, the elite readers of the New Yorker will be introduced to the country’s private schools, places to visit, banks. As a proud Canadian, I’m always delighted when my country gets a shred of recognition or acknowledgement — I bet most Americans don’t know that the two nations have the largest trading relationship in the world, doing billions of dollars worth of business with each other annually.

It’s a good time for Canadian advertisers to make the move because the loonie (that’s the Canadian $1 gold colored coin) is near par with the U.S. — it was 65 cents for many years. That makes Canada more expensive for American visitors and college students (who pay non-resident fees, often four times higher), but still well worth a look.

Many New Yorkers are sending their kids to McGill, and I’m always touting my alma mater, the University of Toronto — tuition for non-Canadians is still much less than for comparable American colleges.

Plus you get to live in a foreign country where the drinking age is 18.

'Objective' Reporting? Impossible, Admits Atlanta Paper

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“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

So wrote Janet Malcolm, in a famous (at least to journos) quote.

Anyone who tries to produce “news” or features for a living knows there’s no such thing as an unbiased or non-partisan point of view: we see the world, no matter how much we try or readers might wish otherwise, through our multiple filters of race, class, education, gender, country of origin. Being aware of them is some of the battle, while also trying to get out of their way.

Add to the individual reporter’s filters those of the many — as many as a dozen on some pieces, in whatever medium a story is produced — editors who can, and, do question and challenge those perceptions, layering on some of their own along the way from event/issue to the coverage of same.

I find so much, too much, of what passes for “reporting” is normative — focussing on what should be, rather than what is. One of the things I find deeply frustrating, and always have about being a journalist, is how little (hmmm, never) we talk about what we do, why we do it a certain way and whether there is another/better way to do it.

I do not mean a way that produces more profit for our employers or simply more eyeballs on our material.  Journalism remains an industrial process, a swiftly moving production line in which one worker (reporter) gathers the “facts” (filters firmly in place when so doing), another edits/alters/questions them, another re-questions them, and so on until the “story” appears and is consumed, with little or much credulity.

The pace of the Internet — as fast as humanly possible, please! — only makes this worse. Who’s got the time, or inclination to ask why a story is even being done, let alone in any particular way, when there’s so much pressure to just get it out there now?

These questions do get asked  — in think tanks, at foundations, in classrooms and at conferences, all too often by people whose last direct influence on the production of this hour’s news was years, even decades, earlier.

One of the issues that fascinates me, and makes me nervous, is this “branding” of the individual writer, as evidenced here at True/Slant and elsewhere. It’s flattering to be read and followed and listened to and tweeted. It validates a point of view, of whatever color and tone, but it doesn’t — at least often enough, even within the bounds of blessed civility — ask the essential question:

What makes you say that? Why do you think this way? Have you  — how? — considered others’ ideas or viewpoints?

From mediabistro.com, a refreshing blast of candor:

However, the perspectives of APN and other publications come through in other ways: (1) the choices of what stories to cover and what not to cover, (2) defining what a story is or is not in the first place, (3) deciding how to cover the story, (4) assessing what the “sides” are to be balanced, (5) deciding how the “sides” should be balanced, (6) deciding what facts to include and what not facts to include, etc.

At Atlanta Progressive News, we have a transparent editorial perspective that shapes which facts get included and which facts are given priority over others. Most other publications–on the other hand–have a hidden, sometimes insidious editorial perspective that shapes the same.

My point regarding the non-existence of objectivity in news has to do with which facts get included and which don’t– which “sides” get included and which don’t. Every publication has to make choices about this, which are unique to each publication and to each situation being written about.

Now most people’s basic understanding of objectivity is: balancing the sides. Okay, let’s talk about the sides for a minute. How many sides are there?

Well, there are approximately six billion people in the world, and to the extent that everyone’s perspective is slightly different, there could be potentially six billion sides.

So, This Unearned Check Arrived For $2,666.67. What Happened Next…

'Untitled (Roll of Dollar Bills)' by Andy Warh...
If only it were mine! Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Imagine! Two weeks ago, a check arrived, made out to me, at my address, for the sum of $2,666.67. It was from a major consumer magazine from a Glossy Mag publisher we all know.

Problem was, I hadn’t written anything for that magazine, or that publisher, in about a decade.

Maybe it was a re-sale and this was my cut? Could be. I’ve gotten unexpected checks from other contracted re-uses of my material, and the odd number sounded like that might be the case. That’s a lot of dough in our house, and maybe many homes these days.

The company, of course, won’t let you actually speak to anyone in accounts payable; only by email. So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been tugging on their sleeve asking repeatedly who paid this to me and what for and why? I knew it wasn’t mine. Of course, I wanted to keep it. Lord, that’s a lot of money.

Today I found out who to send the check back to and why, possibly I got it in error — I’m not (sob) the only freelance writer with my name writing for this company. News to me.

Guys, how about a fruit basket for my determined Boy Scout-ness?

What would you have done?

No Shelter For Shelter Books — 'Metropolitan Home' Shut Down After 26 Years

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Another shelter book, and another longstanding national magazine devoted to celebrating the good life, has bit the dust. Metropolitan Home has been killed after 26 years. Parent company HFMUS plans to focus its resources on its in-house competitor, luxe, international Elle Decor instead.

I remember Met Home back when it was Apartment Life, long before Dwell, Nest, Wallpaper or Domino (now-dead) showed up. I was much sadder when House & Garden was closed and I still miss the elegant reflectiveness of Dominique Browning’s letters from the editor, but every time another shelter book dies so does a place for a different point of view and an outlet for talented writers and photographers and designers to celebrate domestic beauty, something I believe passionately in creating and sharing.

I studied interior design full-time for a while, intending to flee journalism, and came away from my studies in awe of the intelligence and drive it takes to create and promote great (even mediocre) design. I’m personally not a fan of the cavernous and relentlessly modern houses Met Home focused on, but many people are — while dozens of shelter books remain safely focused on cozy, pre-digested ideas.

It’s sadly ironic that now we’ve got designer garbage cans and toasters and lighting a mouse-click away, available from even mass marketers like Target or Pottery Barn, we’re losing places like Met Home that salute design’s cutting edge.