By: Mark Fitzgerald
Detroit Free Press sportswriter Perry Farrell returns to work Monday — 10 months after the 18-year veteran was fired on an accusation that he violated the paper’s ethical policy.
Farrell said Friday he will be returning to a place that won’t exactly be welcoming.
“They made it known they don’t want me back,” he said in a telephone interview. “They mistreated me from the start. I’m going back knowing that everything I say and do will be scrutinized terribly. But that’s okay, because I will be the best I can be. The Lord has sustained me through this whole thing.”
Farrell said he was returning only because the Gannett-owned daily would not buy him out at a reasonable price after the paper lost a binding arbitration over the firing.
Arbitrator Ann Patton ruled earlier this week that the Free Press must reinstate Farrell at his old beat with back pay and benefits, said Lou Mleczko president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, which filed a grievance over the firing.
“She issued 90 day suspension because by his own admission, Perry said, yeah, I screwed up, I made a careless mistake,” Mleczko said. “And because he had been disciplined on a similar matter six years ago — six and a half years ago — she felt a more stern suspension was warranted.”
Farrell was fired last summer from his job covering sports and doing general assignment reporting for the Community Free Press after the paper began an investigation into the attributions of some quotes in a story about an area youth soccer league. “I got a couple of quotes wrong,” said Farrell, who added his beat had been changed three times in a matter of months. “I went from covering the Pistons to covering colleges to covering high schools,” he said.
Mleczko said Farrell explained to editors and the arbitrator that he had inadvertently attributed some direct quotes that were actually taken from the league’s Web site.
“There was no allegation that he didn’t do the interviews with the coaches, or that he fabricated material,” Mleczko said, adding that the story was never published.
Free Press Sports Editor Gene Myers said Friday afternoon he had no comment on Farrell?s return.
Richard Prince first reported the arbitrator’s ruling in his online “Journal-Isms” newsletter on the Maynard Institute Web site.
“The arbitrator agreed with the Guild that the dismissal of an 18-year employee of the Free Press was excessive and unjustified,” Mleczko said. “We’re pleased that we got Perry his job back, and that hopefully he can return as a productive staff writer for the Free Press as he was for so long.”
Farrell said the Lord had protected his family during the time off. “I didn’t miss a car payment, I didn’t miss a house payment,” he said. “Some people say they couldn’t survive if they missed a couple of checks — well, I missed 40 of them.”