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YJI Co-founder Explains Why Ethics Compelled Him To Quit His Reporting Job

Steve Collins
Christmas Eve, 2015

Twenty five years ago, as a young reporter, I sat in an Upstate
New York courtroom where a judge ordered me to hand over a leaked hospital lab
slip that showed a state trooper had been drunk during a late-night crash. When
I refused, I thought I would wind up behind bars, the culmination of a
months-long drama that forced me to confront both the best and worst parts of
my chosen profession. In the end, fortunately, I dodged jail time without
giving in.
Now, no longer young, I once again face a moment that calls for
me to put my own needs aside and to stand once again for principle.
I work for a man, Michael Schroeder, who in 2009 bought the
small daily that has employed me for two decades at a time when the future of The
Bristol Press
looked dim. He came in promising to shatter old ways and to
help push the financially troubled paper to new heights. As is so frequently
the case with newspaper publishers, his rhetoric didn’t mean much. By 2011, my
wife – a superb fellow reporter who’d been at my side the whole time – quit in
disgust after Mr. Schroeder cut a deal with a major advertiser, the local
hospital, to keep a damaging news story under wraps. Because she could not let
the community know the local hospital had fired all of its emergency room
physicians, my wife, Jackie Majerus, handed in her resignation. It means very
little to be a reporter if you cannot report the news. I stayed on, though,
continuing to write about government and politics, because we could not get by
without any paycheck.
Jackie has spent most of the past four years as the unpaid
executive director of an amazing charity we created, Youth Journalism
International, which teaches students across the globe about journalism. They
write stories, take pictures, draw cartoons and so much more. For the past 22
years, it has been a labor of love for us both, a constant infusion of idealism
and some incredible work on everything from Hurricane Katrina to Boko Haram.
One of the things we emphasize is that journalism is not just a career, it is a
calling, that it requires those who join its ranks to stand up for what’s right
even when it is difficult.
I have watched in recent days as Mr. Schroeder has emerged as a
spokesman for a billionaire with a penchant for politics who secretly purchased
a Las Vegas newspaper and is already moving to gut it. I have learned with
horror that my boss shoveled a story into my newspaper – a terrible,
plagiarized piece of garbage about the court system – and then stuck his own
fake byline on it. He handed it to a page designer who doesn’t know anything
about journalism late one night and told him to shovel it into the pages of the
paper. I admit I never saw the piece until recently, but when I did, I knew it
had Mr. Schroeder’s fingerprints all over it. Yet when enterprising reporters
asked my boss about it, he claimed to know nothing or told them he had no
comment. Yesterday, they blew the lid off this idiocy completely, proving that
Mr. Schroeder lied, that he submitted a plagiarized story, bypassed what
editing exists and basically used the pages of my newspaper, secretly, to
further the political agenda of his master out in Las Vegas. In sum, the owner
of my paper is guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions.
There is no excusing this behavior. A newspaper editor cannot be
allowed to stamp on the most basic rules of journalism and pay no price. He
should be shunned by my colleagues, cut off by professional organizations and
told to pound sand by anyone working for him who has integrity.
So I quit.
I have no idea how my wife and I will get by. We have two kids
in college, two collies, a mortgage and dreams of travel and adventure that now
look more distant than ever.
But here’s what I know: I can’t teach young people how to be
ethical, upstanding reporters while working for a man like Michael Schroeder. I
can’t take his money. I can’t do his bidding. I have to stand up for what is
right even if the cost is so daunting that at this moment it scares the hell
out of me.
I hope that my profession can somehow lend a hand. Take a look
at what we’re doing at Youth Journalism International – youthjournalism.org and yjiblog.org are good places to start – and maybe we’ll get
some new donors who have as much faith in the future of journalism as we do.
This is a truly outstanding nonprofit that should be paying my wife a salary
for her countless hours of work.
As for me, I am sorry to give up on my coverage of Bristol. I
feel a part of the fabric of the community after covering it since 1994. It has
so many wonderful people and much to offer. But I think those I know there will
understand why I’m doing this and, I trust, support my decision.
Whatever happens, I am going to hold my head high and face the
future with resolve. Journalism is nothing if we reporters falter and fade. We
are doing something important and men such Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Adelson – no
matter how much money they can toss around – cannot have their way with us.
Steve Collins
majeruscollins@gmail.com
(860) 523-9632
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