First-Ever Inquirer and Daily News Performance Reviews Rankle Newsroom

Job-rating process fuels rumors, challenges morale, and further unsettles a weary workforce.

inquirer boxIn many workplaces, job evaluations are part of the routine, a once-a-year cause for heartburn and/or celebration of another year of hard work completed. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, though, aren’t run-of-the mill workplaces — and journalists at both papers are receiving what, for many of them, is a first-ever job evaluation.

It’s a brand-new process that has fueled rumors, challenged morale, and further disturbed the equilibrium of newsrooms already unsettled by legal feuding among the newspapers’ owners.

“In general, there is nothing wrong with a company evaluating its employees,” said Diane Mastrull, an Inquirer business writer, and an officer in the Newspaper Guild that represents journalists at both papers. “The problem is the chaotic, demoralizing context of this maiden evaluation.”

Philly Mag talked with several journalists at both newspapers over the last week. Most declined to speak on the record unless, like Mastrull, they were officers with the union. But off-the-record conversations revealed growing concern among journalists — particularly at the Inquirer, where editor Bill Marimow was said to have issued an edict to mid-level editors performing the evaluations that no journalist should get above a middling “meets expectations” rating unless they’d achieved national acclaim.

Mark Block — a spokesman for Interstate General Media, which owns the papers — declined comment on personnel issues, including whether Marimow had issued the reported edict. Mastrull and Bill Ross, the guild’s executive director, said they had both heard about Marimow’s reported command from editors and guild members.

“I did hear that from some of my members, and hope the editors defy Marimow and grade my members fairly,” Ross said. “I hope the results reflect otherwise, and if Marimow did make that comment, hopefully it was ignored, as it should have been.”

First Time

It may be astonishing for workers in other fields — and even at many newspapers — to find out that Inky and Daily News journalists haven’t previously been given job evaluations.

“I don’t remember getting a review before,” said Howard Gensler, the guild’s president and gossip columnist at the Daily News, who has been with the paper since 1997. “The guild tends to be against reviews.”

Why? Because the process is too subjective, Gensler said. “Nobody wants to implement a byline count, because there are all kinds of different stories and they’re different than others, some take more reporting than others. Judging the quality of writing is incredibly subjective, once you reach a certain level of professionalism. You can’t judge somebody by how many clicks they get online, because that depends on how online plays your stories.”

Nonetheless, when new owners — led by George Norcross — negotiated a new contract with the guild at the beginning of 2013, the union agreed to let its members undergo the evaluation process for the first time. The reason? Money. Journalists at the papers agreed to the process in exchange for taking smaller-than-expected pay cuts.

“We’ve always been against it. This time, the company was so adamant about it,” Gensler said. “This was money we didn’t have to give the company back. It was a substantial number — it was probably a percent or two of somebody’s salary.”

A side letter with the February 2013 contract gives IGM “sole discretion” to create performance standards and “implement a performance evaluation instrument.” According to that letter, the evaluation may be used to create “performance improvement plans” for employees who do not meet expectations.

In reality, Gensler says, the evaluations aren’t expected to have much effect one way or the other. A few employees with subpar evaluations might need the guild to defend their jobs, he said, but that’s expected to be about it. The few who receive good reviews aren’t expected to gain anything from it.

“If you get a great review, so what?” Gensler said. “If you get a bad review, it could just be because your boss doesn’t like you, and if you got a review by another person you might get a better review.”

Mastrull added: “Those who have gotten evaluations above ‘meeting expectations’ note that such kudos don’t come with a bonus check or a cancellation of the pay cuts.”

What Next?

Indeed, part of what makes the evaluation process maddening to the journalists is their sense that there’s no ultimate purpose to it — an aimless aggravation when aggravations are least needed in the newsrooms.

“Each and every employee here should earn the highest rating (far exceeds expectations) just for being able to keep their focus on doing their jobs — at a time when the owners are at war in what appears to be a battle royale over egos and very little else,” Mastrull said.

“Instead, these very employees, who are already enduring pay cuts and unpaid furloughs, are now having to endure evaluations of their job performance that haven’t had many skipping out of the building with glee. The majority seem to be ‘meeting expectations,’ a rating, we’ve been told by company officials, is good. Maybe it is, but people certainly feel what they are enduring should earn them more points than that.”

Gensler sounded a similar note.

“I’m just more concerned with the ownership squabble … than this nonsense,” he said. “I don’t see what anybody expects to get out of this in the future.”

Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.

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  • NotFromPhilly

    Hard to believe. No performance reviews? No wonder the papers are in trouble …

  • Edward Murrow

    Having a company’s management evaluate the performance of their staff is insane. But what makes perfect sense is having Obama Administration political appointees interrogate news media with inappropriate inquisitions, such as:

    * What is the news philosophy of the station?
    * Who is your target audience?
    * How do you define critical information that the community needs?
    * How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?
    * Has management ever interfered in staff reporting a story?
    * How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
    * What are the demographics of the news management staff?
    * What are the demographics of the on air staff?
    * What are the demographics of the news production staff?

  • matthew brandley

    Always have performance reviews at work.
    typical of union liberal thugs . always have to whine and cry about something. Begining to sound like Obama isnt it at the inky?

  • Frannie

    Let’s cut the crap. Here’s the Real Deal on Norcross. He wants to control everything and everybody. He found a new toy “MEDIA BASHING” aka “POLITICAL RETRIBUTION” I have a story of how this all came to be and I will eventually tell you. I dealt with Norcross and his goons personally and I am part of the reason Norcross bought the newspapers Courier Post and the Philadelphia Inquire. He didn’t want his friends getting beat up in the paper, especially after he knew he could not control me in politics. He wound up buying a social media site to use and defame people. This site use unethical editors with no integrity or journalistic experience. This was just a job with paycheck to do what they were told and to report what George Norcross told them to report.

    Media can destroy people like Norcross, especially in New Jersey where there is little to know news outlets. He made sure he bought out the two larges papers in South Jersey, Courier Post and Philadelphia Inquire. Along comes the internet and now he needs social media sites to be controlled so he is revealed. Things have changed and George can no longer hide like he use to, but he sure going to try to do all he can by buying out media sites, using control social media, by making sure google has their stories on the top page of the search engine so they can tell their fabricated version of the story. His daughter alexis is in control of that site. We know how you operate George. We got your number. GEORGE E. NORCROSS WANTS TO CONTROL PEOPLE. If he can not control you, he goes after you and uses BS stories he sabotages to the media. Keep in mind, this Jersey Devil controls New Jersey Courts, Judges, Lawyers, NJ AG’s Offices, Prosecutors, Police, Elected Officials and all of their JOBS. If they don’t cooperate with him, he will SABOTAGE AND MANUFACTURES WAYS TO HAVE YOU fired for NO REASON, arrested WITH NO EVIDENCE and defamed BY SOCIAL MEDIA SITES THAT HE OWNS.

    If NORCROSS can’t control you, he goes after you and your families and anyone who is connected to you. He is an EVIL EVIL EVIL PERSON. He is the JERSEY DEVIL. He has NO HEART. HE SOLD HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL AND THAT IS WHY HE IS DOING WHAT HE DOES. EVIL TO THE CORE.

    REMEMBER GEORGE: What goes around, Comes around. Your day will come and SO many people are waiting to see you FALL, including God himself. It’s just a matter of time. Somebody is going to take you down and God is going to appoint that person to allow them to do it.

  • Sick of Corrupt Norcross

    We the People have to stick together to take down Political Boss George E. Norcross. He is buying his way into the Federal Government and the elected officials have given him the green light to do what ever he damn well pleases since he is funding and contributing to their campaigns. Obama can take out world leaders like Bin Laden, Il Kim Jong of North Korea and Libyia’s leader, all dead. Why can’t he get a simple RICO on George Norcross for gross misuse of funds, money laundering, racketeering, fraud, SEC and other Ponzi Schemes. This is a joke. It appears that the people have to overthrown this Political Machine Dictator ourselves. He is a nuisance. Lets see how this judge rules on this paper. I’m concerned about how he got the Philly judge to move it to Delaware. Watch this Delaware judge rule for Norcross. He made sure he paid off somebody to get what he wanted or he threatened them.

  • Will

    Based on, these papers have been reduced to sensationalist racially tinged stories in order to get the clicks generated by racist comments from your average city hater.

  • Chris

    The Courier-Post has been owned by Gannett since 1959. That has not changed
    Christina Mitchell
    Executive editor