Columnist Who Sparked Protest Against ‘Gag Rule’ Quits

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By: Joe Strupp

A longtime Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch columnist, whose comments to a local weekly last year drew attention to a controversial policy barring such unauthorized views, is leaving the paper, the Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday.

Mark Holmberg, who had been at the paper for 20 years, drew attention in July 2006 when he made anonymous comments to Style Weekly, an alternative Richmond paper. He later revealed his identity, drawing criticism from editors and eventually leading to the shutdown of an internal employee bulletin board where the issue had been discussed.

The policy, implemented in 2005, had required employees to receive supervisor approval before speaking with the press. It sparked the newsroom union, the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association, to lodge a charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the policy that some referred to as a “gag rule.”

The paper, on Wednesday, reported that Holmberg “will leave the newspaper Jan. 18 to pursue other interests.”

Holmberg told E&P in a voice mail message that he was leaving voluntarily, adding “things here have continued to change and I can’t stay there in good conscience.” He did not elaborate.

Editor Glenn Proctor also said Holmberg had left on his own, describing him as “a very valued commodity here.” Proctor declined to comment on the media policy or the NLRB case.

NLRB officials had set a Dec. 6, 2006 hearing date before an administrative law judge, but the case was withdrawn two days earlier after both sides agreed to a settlement, according to an NLRB spokesman, who did not have details of the settlement.

Calls to RNPA officials were not immediately returned.

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