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The Sun-Times is spiking QT, the popular column that Zay Smith has been writing since 1995. That’s a story I told yesterday in my blog here.
But there’s more. The Sun-Times claims it needs Smith back in the newsroom as a general assignment reporter, a billet he’s filled with distinction in years past. But the Chicago Newspaper Guild isn’t buying it. The reason, explains executive director Gerald Minkkinen, is that Smith, who wrote QT from home, has permanent physical disabilities that “make it difficult for him to be mobile.” And, says Minkkinen, the paper knows it.
He says that a few weeks ago, when it became clear to Smith that QT was in danger, the guild arranged to have Smith examined by a company doctor. Minkkinen hasn’t seen a copy of the doctor’s report, but he assumes that it’s honest, and that the paper therefore knows how dificult it is for Smith to get around.
“If there was any way he could go back on the street, you know he would,” says Minkkinen. “It’s unfortunate that somebody [that would be editor in chief Michael Cooke] would be so — I almost have to use the word inhuman — to create a situation they knew he could not handle and require him to do it.
“We are going to be discussing this matter with company,” Minkkinen continues, “and, depending on its reaction, we might well be grieving the situation. It’s a situation that upsets us greatly.”
Nothing happens in a vacuum. The Sun-Times is fighting for its life financially. On Thursday the Sun-Times Media Group reported a third-quarter loss of $168.8 million, and in a letter to shareholders Thursday, CEO Cyrus Freidheim said that because of the reeling economy the $50 million in annual expenses slashed from the corporate budget earlier this year failed to stabilize the company’s finances. As a result, “we have developed and are implementing another major cost reduction program of $45 million to $55 million.” These two devastating retrenchments together “are expected to reduce our cost base by almost 30 percent.”
Says Minkkinen, “They’ve been trying to dump salaries, and Zay is a senior reporter probably on the top end of the salary scale. But to not recognize the man’s seniority, to not recognize his contributions, to not recognize him as a human being is totally outrageous. There’s no question in my mind, this has nothing to do with the column. They’re trying to get rid of him.”
Don Hayner, managing editor of the Sun-Times, told me he wouldn’t answer questions having anything to do with Smith’s health. Michael Cooke, who’s out of the country, said by BlackBerry that he hadn’t seen a doctor’s report on Smith.