The other day we were surprised by the news of the dismissal of four journalists from the portal of one media house. The dismissal is justified by optimization, but as this is often an excuse for employers to fire people we decided to talk to one of the fired journalists about everything that was happening to him.
In order to protect him, we will not publish his name, only his answers to a few questions that best depict the gloomy, uncertain and difficult fate of journalists in Croatia, ie those journalists who dare to raise their heads and not accept bad compromises that clash with professional and ethical principles.
When did the problems start?
They started after our editor left on maternity leave at the beginning of the year. Then the merger of our department with PR department began in silence. A new editor initially said he would not enter the rotation of shifts and would not have work weekends, which actually meant we were still one man less.
In addition, one colleague resigned just before these changes, so we were in an additional deficit. The biggest problem was that the strategy and the new plan were made without any conversations with us, we were brought before a finished act, we were not explained what was changing and how, except for corporate phrases like “vertical changes in the work”.
How did the problems manifest?
The main problems arose after the first meeting, at which we were told which direction we had to go, and then all this was ignored. For example, it is said that we no longer put sensationalist headlines, that we do thematic stories, we go out on the field to find stories and that we don’t have to publish everything that others publish.
With the first interventions on the titles of news stories we returned to sensationalism, we had no time to work on topics, one colleague once managed to go to the field and after that she was banned. At the same time, we were told that if we don’t see ourselves working for this portal we can go to another portal owned by the same media house.
Then the coronavirus arrived and they were trapped with us, and us with them, and the first setbacks, where we absolutely all complained, arose when we found out that all the web newsrooms were working from home.
On what did you all warn your superiors?
To the fact that during a coronavirus epidemic everyone except us works from home. Also, all the superiors were sent home some three weeks before us.
After the earthquake, plaster was falling on us from the ceiling, we were located on the first floor even though there was a sign that said it was forbidden to go upstairs. All because they were unable to set up our computers to work remotely. Then we skipped the editor and contacted the head of PR and the main person of this media house directly, who, we unofficially found out, was extremely angry.
But officially, everything was finally resolved in two days. During the remote work, we warned about the insufficient number of people, the fact that the editor can’t help but work, to get the answer “he’s not your assistant” and “he needs to get you in order”.
It is important to emphasize that we sent an e-mail to Human Resources with the question of when we will start working from home, because the editor and his superior avoided answering live. Unfortunately, the head of Human Resources refused to answer, forwarded the inquiry to the editor-in-chief, who called me aside and the attacks started. There was no vulgarity on either side, but there were elevated tones.
There were also complaints about the way we work, the titles, the disorganization and everything we were used to before the changes, and they are an integral part of the job for anyone who has been versed in it. But we would go back to “because I said it”.
What kind of things did they ask you to do?
Everything that the TV newsroom would send as a curiosity, even if it was a panda rolling down a mountain, we as a news newsroom had to do. Although we have been told that we are independent of the TV newsroom, except for publishing TV shows that they produce, as well as the exclusive news that they air.
We were forbidden to write against larger companies. For example, some topics were stopped from publishing. We wrote about the problems of workers in two companies, we had statements from workers, statements from the management and of all relevant actors.
The story was stopped after the review, with the explanation that no one should write now about the negativities (it was the beginning of April). I told them that people were forced to work without protective equipment in the midst of the corona, under threat of dismissal, even those assigned to self-isolation but they stopped the story anyway.
And the other stopped story was about the closure of another company. The blockade of the publication of the story was explained in an identical way, but also with the note “From now on, you must all announce to me in advance which topics you are working on.”
Before the end of the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU, we had to work on a number of EU topics, which went under a special section, all in order to raise money from EU funds. We do not know the details of that deal, but when a colleague said it publicly, the legal department of the media house got involved in everything.
Also, colleagues would listen to EU webinars for a few hours live and in the shift there would be only an editor who had to do everything himself, which clearly showed us where the priorities are. Of course, all these EU texts were very poorly read and this was reflected in the overall readability.
In addition to all that, we had to publish and write a whole range of PR texts for various companies, brands and people. The moment when we fell under the “PR & Communications” department was the moment when Marketing on a daily basis started flooding us with countless promo texts, campaigns… As an icing on the cake, we had to brand TV faces constantly.
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM is that the Prime Minister’s Office is constantly calling us and asking for changes in titles that do not suit them. This is done by a spokesman for the Government, and an advisor to the Minister of Education also called. Any revolt of ours against something like that would be attacked by the editorial board.
The editor-in-chief, who they would always call first, also took part in censorship. Namely, for example, the minister attacks, tells people to be silent, it can be seen in the video, heard, we raise the video, put it in the title, they demand that we immediately remove it from the site, even though it is in the text and in the video. At the same time, they would threaten that we would be left without guests from the Government in the shows. This is just one of many examples.
The one in which the editor-in-chief forbade a colleague to work on the topic of the property card and the prime minister’s wife was also interesting. Our editor agreed to stop the story and attacked his colleague when he said that it was wrong.
We were also forbidden to write about public debt, and countless times we changed headlines that were not to the liking of prominent politicians, they did not even have to be members of ruling party. They all had identical rhetoric – “we will not be guests on TV shows”.
How did the web editor treat you, how the editor-in-chief, and how the head of human resources?
The editor treated the students very well and generally liked a relationship in which he was dominant and no questions were asked. Any question would encounter ignorance or aggression. He did not stand up for us, he did not protect us and he would disappear during any critical situation, he would just withdraw.
The editor-in-chief is perhaps best described by her statement “I don’t understand anything about the internet, you do as you think is good”, which she said while working on the strategy. She was our superior for years and she stated that, she withdrew from working on the strategy, even though she was a part of it on paper.
After 1.3.2020. she was no longer our superior on paper, but she was constantly “suggesting” things to us. Communication on her part, except when it was necessary to intervene, absolutely never existed. She addressed us with “hey”, “you”, “web” and she didn’t know our names. Everyone acted in a coordinated manner. Cold and uninterested in our problems, criticisms, questions.
The Head of Human Resources is a special story. She works on strategies and planning how newsrooms will work, she still doesn’t understand why work has to be done on weekends, why in the afternoons, she constantly complains that there are too many of us, and she doesn’t understand that 14 shifts a week are filled.
She never acted like someone from HR, while her colleagues were great, like workers and people. But she personally never helped us, nor did she offer to help. In April, we wanted to report the editor for mobbing, stating that we had never encountered anything like it, to which she did not ask us how we were, what the problem was, but referred us to the legal department, which has an interest in protecting the firm. And that’s where it stopped. The attempt to report was forwarded to superiors, as we know from their subsequent reprimands.
They said the layoffs were due to rationalization, and they hired four people?
In fact, two female students came in July, and on August 1st, a senior journalist, who had been an editor three years earlier. And privately he has a great relationship with our editor, which in fact wouldn’t matter if the proofreader hadn’t been fired on July 31 with the explanation that we were in poor financial shape. It is not out of place to mention that on the day of our dismissal, a message arrived for everyone that the problem of lectors will be solved because they are looking for a new one.
What is the real reason you were fired?
The editor-in-chief and I were friends for ten years and at coffees she started questioning me about the details about the people I work with, the way I work with them and so on.
She later took advantage of this by taking my words out of context, to confirm that we were in a mess and that we needed a firm hand. In particular, to understand what it is about. She made up that the editor who is on maternity leave complained that her deputy was a bad leader and she asked me whether that was true. I said that he was quiet, but that we all agreed on everything and that the work atmosphere was never better.
To the management she said that the top author (because, according to statistics, I have been constantly among the three most read authors on a monthly basis since coming to the portal) said that the deputy is not a good leader and that as such he does not have the necessary authority. She then worked on bringing in a person who had been out of journalism for four years and had modest web experience.
After everything was presented to us on February 14, she contacted me on Facebook and asked why we were so depressed, I complained to her (I didn’t know the details, the background and I thought we were friends at the time), to which she lost her temper, she said that she brought in a new man, that we were bad, repeated that we needed to be put in order.
Irreversibly, our relationship deteriorated at that moment, which she used as an argument for any of my later criticisms. Thinking she was still the same person I knew, I tried on several occasions to get her protection, but my words were just forwarded and would further bury me, there was no going back.
So I wanted to go to another portal of our media house, as promised, but after I agreed to move with the department (separate from ours), it was stopped a day later (June) with the explanation that employment is forbidden. I was promised, like two colleagues, that we would be able to make the transition in the fall, says one of the workers who was fired.
There is a lot, from the previously mentioned mobbing and stopping of topics, various small conflicts… So to finally mention the biggest conflict, the day before trying to go to another portal. The editor sent an official document warning his deputy for “negligent work” and “disobedience.”
In our Facebook group, I rebelled and said that I had witnessed “disobedience”, that this was not true, and called on the editor to help us, to put aside what was personal because the situation got out of control.
The answer was “He is the editor and your superior.” She refused to help us and there were very serious problems, extremely worsening of the atmosphere. She was ordered to withdraw from all groups and any interaction with us (she never responded to any emails or calls again, even though it was about work, and she was our superior).
The head of PR and Communications never addressed me directly in seven months, asking for a meeting or expressing dissatisfaction with my work. No one is. Apart from the conflicts that would arise after the revolt, there were no talks or indications of what was being prepared.
When I take everything into account, what was going on, how the dismissal was granted and how she behaved during that dismissal, I know that everything is on a personal level, not because of redundancies. Also, at every attempt to argue the dismissal, the general and official answer is “restructuring, we are sorry, we had no choice”. The colleagues who stayed, tried to get answers at a live meeting on Friday, they got that answer with “that topic is over”.
Who runs the web now?
So, after the restructuring on paper, the following changed – the media house portal became independent, and the news portal a column without an editor. Nothing has changed for anyone except the news, which left the same scope of work, but with four people less, three seniors who held shifts and one journalist, the fired journalist tells us.
Tomorrow we will continue publishing the testimonies of the fired journalists.