Should Albom Be Fired? At ASNE, Editors Say No

By: Joe Strupp Should Mitch Albom be fired?

That's the question E&P posed to newspaper editors gathered here this week for the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors conference. For most of those willing to offer an opinion, the answer was no -- not yet, anyway.

"Is it a fireable offense?" asked Terry Headlee, executive editor of The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md. "It's awfully close. It bothered me a lot. But I feel that a person's whole career needs to be taken into account."

Headlee and others were asked about Albom's recent sin of submitting on April 1 a column for the Detroit Free Press' April 3 edition about a Michigan State University basketball game on April 2. He would not have gotten caught, except that the column reported on two former Michigan State University basketball players attending the game, who did not attend.

Free Press editors are investigating the incident and have put Albom on paid leave until they decide what to do.

"At the very least there should be a serious suspension," Headlee added. "If he blows it off and acts as if it isn't a big deal, he should be packing his boxes and out the door."

Most of the editors polled at ASNE took a similar approach, showing reluctance to fire Albom without knowing all the facts.

"No, not from what I know so far," Bill Thomas, editor of The Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Mich. "I think it was sloppy reporting, sloppy writing, and sloppy on the editor's desk. But I think he is an accomplished writer who is entitled to one mistake."

Thomas, whose paper runs many Albom columns and had published the bogus piece, said this might be a sign that Albom should stop spreading himself thin on his many projects. In addition to the Free Press column, which is syndicated through Tribune Media Services, he also hosts a daily radio show, appears regularly on ESPN, and has authored several books.

"He probably needs to back off a bit and decide what he wants to do," Thomas said.

Phill Casaus, editor of The Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune, said the embarrassment Albom is getting, plus whatever suspension he may receive, is enough. "Everyone knows about it," he noted. "I don't know that one single incident -- given his overall career -- is enough to fire him. You have to take it in the context of what he has done for the newspaper."

Peter Copeland, editor and general manager of Scripps Howard News Service, agreed. "That guy has contributed a lot to that paper, to our business, and that is one mistake," he said. "If it was the third time he had done it, I would fire him. It is the first time, so I would have him clean the kitchen in the newsroom for two solid weeks."

John Temple, editor and publisher of Denver's Rocky Mountain News, favored a cautious reaction. "I don't know enough about what is in his personnel file, if there are other events," Temple said. "It is dishonest, and if you look at what we do, that is one of the things we cannot afford to do."

Clark Hoyt, Washington editor of Knight Ridder Newspapers, also withheld final judgment until all the background information comes out. But he called the actions serious. "You don't write in the past tense about something that hasn't happened yet," he said.

Only Mike Marshall, editor of The Mobile (Ala.) Register, would fire Albom without question for the one incident. "Sure," he said when asked if Albom should be canned. "You have violated that trust. Given our [credibility] challenges right now, I think we have to be tough when it comes to breaching that line."


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