Monday, April 13, 2009

Statement from Sylvester Brown regarding termination from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as issued at press conference on April 13, 2009

Thank you for coming today…

For reasons I think you’ll understand, I humbly ask that you allow me to deliver this prepared statement without follow up questions.

Last week, I learned through my union, the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, that upper management at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had decided to discharge me for violating the company’s ethics policy.

On March 27, I was told by upper management to leave the building, pending an investigation. I have not been allowed access since -- not even to gather my personal belongings or to shake hands with the colleagues and friends I’ve made over the past nearly six years.

I’ve called this press conference to bid farewell to my friends at the Post Dispatch and the loyal readers who have made this enjoyable but at times difficult journey with me over the years.

Secondly, I’m here today to stand up for my name and reputation, which in the end, is all we really have.

I’m not going to use this occasion to debate the allegations made against me. We’ve passed out cards with my blog address, “sylvesterbrownjr.blogspot.com.” There, you will be able to review facts related to this battle, keep up with my work and monitor future developments.

In short, management alleges that I took a plane trip to Washington DC on March 26 as a gift in return for a column I wrote on and turned in the day before about a renewable energy project in East St. Louis.

I’m here to tell you that these charges are a gross distortion of the facts, which in my view, have been purposely manipulated to provide cover for far more desperate and nefarious acts within this once proud and honorable institution.

These are indeed desperate times in our industry. I fully expected the Post to drastically trim budgets and cut staff. The number of talented, seasoned journalists, who have been marched out of this building these past few years, speaks volumes about a frantic effort to survive while sacrificing, in my opinion, the integrity and goodwill once enjoyed by the Post-Dispatch.

However, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, I did not expect the Post to stoop to this – even in light of their pattern of distaste for me.

I did not expect my bosses to jump to an erroneous conclusion and immediately reduce me to nothing more than a stereotype.

Upper management, without the common courtesy of an explanation, quickly jumped on a stubborn, punitive, path of action and refused to back down even after the facts refuted their knee-jerk suspicions.

If management had bothered to ask, they would have known that my trip had nothing to do with East St. Louis. If they had taken time to really know me, my past, my passions (inside and outside the Post walls) about investing in black youth and creating vibrant, sustainable urban communities, they would have instinctively understood why the Summit Council for World Peace – an international organization dedicated to addressing the crisis of world-wide poverty – invited me to Washington and offered to reimburse me for the trip.

Unlike the Post, this agency, through former Congressman Walter Fauntroy, took interest in a book I’m working on which calls for a serious re-alignment of the black leadership agenda in order to work in accord with President Obama’s innovative initiatives that may finally effect real, long-lasting change in low-income, urban neighborhoods.

Sadly, management at the Post-Dispatch, in my opinion, embarked on and furthered a small-minded, predictable and divisive agenda, instead of welcoming my project, respecting me and a call for action in perilous times.

Five days after I was locked out the building, the Guild suggested that management at least hear my side of the story. Eleven days after I suspect they combed through my e-mails, looking for evidence to bolster their ridiculous claim, I heard from the guild.

Although I’ve been told that management hasn’t talked to one person involved with the DC trip, they decided to terminate me. A reason cited for my termination, the union tells me, was that management didn’t consider me “remorseful.”

On the same day the company decided to fire me, I learned through the grapevine that two other columnists were given a day’s suspension because they allegedly violated the company’s ethics policy for working with competing media.

The following day, after I heard of my discharge, the union called to share an offer from the Post to “protect my reputation.”

If I agreed to resign, which I understand requires I cannot speak, I would receive four weeks severance pay and the opportunity to freelance and/or write a farewell column. Under this arrangement, I was told, management wouldn’t leak the reasons for my termination.

Well, Post-Dispatch, thanks, but no thanks.

Just as I did not sell out for a plane trip, I do not sell out my integrity, my name or truth.

I’ll protect the reputation I’ve built in this community these past 22 years.

It’s apparent the Post doesn’t know me like my friends, colleagues and this community knows me. So let me be clear: I have no reason to be remorseful. The truth counters a need for remorse. I’m too stubborn to keep my mouth shut, too proud to cast down my eyes, and too old to shuffle.

The Guild’s executive committee voted unanimously to use all necessary resources to arbitrate this case and get my job back. Although I humbly appreciate its valiant support and its decision to fight these allegations, I’m asking the Guild to fight another day, not for me but for whomever is thrown off the ship next.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, ask my union to fight for a job I could never return to.

It’s clear to me that, even though we have worked together for all these years, management has never known me or what I stand for.

That supposed trained management would insinuate that a one day plane trip, where I spent more time in layovers than I did in Washington, was some sort of pay-off for covering an already written story is beyond logic.

Believe it or not, Post-Dispatch, I’ve been on planes before. This was by no means an exotic excursion.

Since I’m convinced such ridiculous logic has little to do with my termination, I’m forced to believe upper management acted on other, far more suspect motivations.

Perhaps it has something to do with the hasty meeting called after certain folks aligned with Mayor Francis Slay, a member of your community advisory board, issued threats to the newspaper after I wrote about his campaign and administration’s thug-like behavior.

Perhaps the real reason you’ve locked me out of the building is to confiscate the e-mails and letters I sent to the executive and managing editor, begging for intervention into what I described as discriminatory, inconsistent and unnecessarily punitive actions based on one editor’s personal, not professional, perceptions.

Maybe this action is a result of the Oct. 2008 letter I sent to management warning that a newsroom, already seriously lacking in diversity at the bottom and top, could ill afford to continuously mute the most visible and consistent black voice in its employ in response to his questioning of rules and policies drafted or enforced specifically for him.

I suspect that this press conference will send management scurrying to bolster their weak allegations. Be careful Post-Dispatch. My attorneys and the Guild are well aware of your stated reasons for my termination and of our tenuous relationship these past few years. As far as I’m concerned, in your gleeful attempt to rid yourselves of a payroll expense and a confrontational columnist, you’ve already defamed enough good people.

Be careful.

In closing, I want to thank the Post Dispatch readers. I will always value what we shared. Yes, our conversations were sometimes warm, sometimes controversial and sometimes contentious; but what family doesn’t have spicy, emotional debates?

I want to also thank my wonderful, talented colleagues – my friend and mentor Bill McClellan – my buddies Aisha Sultan, Deb Petterson, Carolyn Tuft, Steve Giegerich, Doug Moore, Tim O’Neal, Chris Gooden and so many others I fear I’m leaving out who helped me navigate the newsroom’s sometimes bewildering environment. I will also miss the street-wise banter I had every morning with Keith, Jeff, Kim and the rest of the security team.

Finally, I ask no one to feel sorry for me. So many have lost jobs here and across the country, I’m just among them now.

I’m blessed to have a wife, children, family and friends who value dignity over job security, pride over profit, fortitude over fame and truth over personal rewards.

If you will, feel sorry that this community has lost in the pages of the Post what I believe was a valuable and much needed voice that constantly urged St. Louis to rise above its engrained, petty racial and demographic divisions and explore the wonderful potential of its diverse populace.

If you will, feel sorry for my hardworking colleagues who have to continue fighting despite an upper management who are, in my view, so desperate to save their salaries and their own skin that they will stoop to destroying careers.

I walk away confident that I did my dead-level best to live up to the words mounted on the marble wall in the company’s foyer. Those words, by Joseph Pulitzer, say in part:

"Always fight for progress and reform … never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare … never be afraid to attack wrong ...."

I leave this job with a positive vision toward the future, my shoulders girded and my head held high, knowing that I lived up to Mr. Pulitzer’s mandate.

Further, I am more deeply committed to the issues I have championed all these years. I am more convinced than ever that the charge of journalism is a check and balance fourth branch of government.

I insist that even in an age of spin, truth still matters.

Sadly, I believe the Post-Dispatch management cannot make the same claim.

Thank you.

16 comments:

stlouismb said...

Keep speaking up and out for all of us!!!

Jeane Vogel said...

All I can say is Thank You! I read PD little these days - it still comes to the house, though not for me. I read it little because there is little read. Your column was one of the bright spots. I'll look forward to your writing in your next incarnation.
Jeane
http://www.vogelpix.com
http://www.jeanevogel.blogspot.com

Toriano L. Porter said...

Sorry to hear about the situation at the Post...very unfortunate...
Toriano Porter, Reporter, Independence Examiner Newspaper

2t2v5dkR35tO6IOHZbyX6sEvRA-- said...

Mr. Brown,

Your work has been important in Saint Louis, and I regret that the PD is abandoning its support of that work. In a city with as many wounds and divisions as ours, the major daily needed you. It needs about a dozen of you.

Keep writing, keep asking questions, keep thinking, and keep listening to the people in this city you love. And thank you for sharing your work with the rest of us.

Sean Collins

Adam said...

Can you expand on the meeting that took place after your article on Slay? What were the threats that were made?

ms. katherine anne said...

Mr. Brown,

As a 20-something native St. Louisan, much of the news I read is in online bits, pieces, and headlines. Yours was one of the few columns in the Post-Dispatch that I enjoyed reading in its entirety (and in paper form).

As an aspiring social worker and public interest lawyer who keeps tabs on poverty issues in St. Louis, I found your articles to hit on some of the most important, fundamental topics in St. Louis, particularly surrounding race. The type of journalism you practice is what I grew up believing journalism to be about.

You will be missed, and I look forward to purchasing your book in the future.

Katie Crank
JD-MSW Student, Washington University in St. Louis

OE3 said...

This is unfortunate, Sylvester. It doesn't read to me like negligence on your part. On balance, I would like to hear the PD's account. Although I disagreed with you more than just a little at times, I always found your columns considered, well-written and, above all, NO FLUFF. You were concerned with the City's growth and interests on a nuts & bolts level (and our ever-present race issue, of course). I am sorry to see you go. Another nail in the coffin of a once-great daily.

LaShaunda said...

I'm sorry to hear this. Their loss, our gain.

Take this blog and write the columns you wanted to write.

Write your book and look me up because I definitely will do all I can to help promote it.

You have made a difference in St. Louis and you will continue too.

Keep inspiring us to do our part for the community.

God Bless

LaShaunda
sormag@yahoo.com

Vdruhe said...

I'll just ditto what Sean Collins wrote above and assure you that I and many, many others are waiting to hear how we can support you and your important work.

Guy Fawkes said...

Take your dismissal as a badge of honor.

I moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles in 1991 and consider myself an "evolving midwesterner." I've consistently held the PD in disdain compared to the (then excellent - less so now) Los Angeles Times. But the exceptions for me were always the local PD columnists from Elaine Viets to Bill McClellan to Bernie Miklasz to you. You all helped my "midwestern evolution" by writing interesting, well-grounded articles and opinions.

So now I think of the PD as "that newspaper that publishes Mallard Fillmore and Z. Dwight Billingsley." I'm betting Bill McClellan is next, right after he writes his column about your dismissal. Seems the PD can't stand quality.

For the record, I've found single newspaper towns to have fairly appalling operations, primarily due to the lack of competition. I think the demise of the Globe-Democrat in 1986 started the downward slide of the Post-Dispatch. Similarly, I think the excellence of the Los Angeles Times can be attributed to competition from the Orange County Register.

Now go out and get hired by a REAL media outlet, continue writing with clarity, and win a Pulitzer before it's all over, ok?

Anonymous said...

This further illustrates how Lee Enterprises has destroyed Pulitzer. Pretty soon the PD will be as bland as the rest of Lee's crappy papers. Think of this as being thrown from the wreckage, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you have this blog, Mr. Brown, to offer a fuller explanation of things than the Post-Dispatch provided in its miserably brief account. I'm sorry you've lost your job; this is also a loss for your readers in the P-D, which is, sadly, becoming less and less worthwhile as a newspaper every week. Best wishes as you move forward. I'll look for your writing here or wherever you end up.

Steve/Edwardsville

Anonymous said...

The P-D finally wising up and ridding themselves and its' readers of your racist rants brings to mind the old phrase; "Addition by subtraction".
What a great month it has been for Mayor Slay!!!!

twoserveyou@yahoo.com said...

Mr.Brown, you're right "truth needs no
support"! The Creator usually closes a door just to open a window to another door (jour-
ney). Such a Proud departure...this is exact-
ly what Real Men Do..."they make it do what it
do." Ample Respect to you. Your talent, just accosted right now, but unstop...able! You're now free...Thanks for sharing your brilliance.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about your loss of a job but I can not say that I cared for your columns. You almost always came across as a seething angry black man and frankly it just got old. By the way, I see only positive posts here biased in your favor. Now Sly, why is that ? - Jim in Clayton

prines said...

Sylvester Brown, I was moved as I watched your news conference. I empathize what you are going through. I have been there. I am there now. Racial inequalities occur every day in workplaces across the USA. People are quick to complain, but, slow to stand up for their rights. More people should familiarize themselves with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States Government. More high profile people, like Mr Brown, should be a positive example to the little guy, who might be afraid to fight injustices. The PD can shove my subscription under the nearest rug.