City Desk

Stop Talking About Morale

The Poynter Web site has a little note about newsroom morale on its site, FWIW. Here's an excerpt: "Newsrooms need every possible lift these days, and not just from some far-away writer at Poynter. What are YOU doing to stay motivated and motivate others in tough times?"

On the same front, morale at this publication and others in the Creative Loafing chain became a central topic in a bankruptcy hearing last week in Tampa. Our company's ownership and its chief creditor were arguing over how motivated and happy the chain's employees were.

To all of this, I say whatever. Morale is the single most overrated, manipulable, squishy, bullshit-laden benchmark in the entire public realm. It's subjective—one person can have high morale, and the next can be pissed off at the boss. It's constantly cited by the lamest employees in the organization. It's always higher, too, after the company springs for pizza and beer.

And here's the real tell-tale indicator: It's exhaustively cited by cops in their gripes against the boss. Years back, we did a piece on all the morale's-lower-than-ever stories coming out of the D.C. police department. Every year, it seemed, there was a public comment from one officer about this malaise, as the story cites, for example: "In January 2001, Sgt. G.G. Neill, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, had this to say to the Washington Post about then-Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer, [Chief Charles] Ramsey's No. 2: 'All he did after he got here was hammer the department in the media. I don't think he gave the public a correct picture of how things are handled in the department. And that crushes morale.'"

Right here in this blog post, I am going to save all the morale-obsessed people, including the Poynter folks, a lot of work. If you're still in this industry and have a morale problem, get on a story and report and write and video the hell out of it. Finish it, and then move on to the next one. Morale problem solved.

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  • steward

    Wow, so the boss thinks that employee morale is bullshit? No kidding. Is someone at the paper going to call a union or do you want me to do it?

    Sorry, Erik, I know you're doing the best with what you've got from HQ, but you're still the fucking boss, and you still have to care about the morale of your staff. It's a tough thing for a boss to do, but if you honestly think that morale at a newspaper is solved by working really hard, you're probably a terrible boss.

  • bob

    Wow. Just wow. Not only do you sound like a horrible boss (and judging by the City Paper's relentless decline over your watch, you certainly are), but you also sound like a horrible human.

    Time to step down, Erik.

  • Amanda Hess

    City Paper is buying us beer tonight!

  • bob

    Gee, I wonder why. Maybe it's because Wemple got called out for sounding like the world's biggest asshole.

  • peaceful

    If everyone in the workplace saw their workplace as their greatest opportunity for political and philosophical expression and acted carefully with consideration, we might find that morale would naturally be high. We would all take very seriously our interaction with others in the workplace-- others meaning everyone from the highest and lowest in any workplace hierarchy. We would treat each other and ourselves with respect and honesty. All of our rules would be reasonable and have reasonable exceptions. Nothing would be done to reinforce anyone's ego, as we would separate ourselves from the fruits of our labor. We would work hard, knowing the larger consequences slacking off would have on the department/company/local economy/national economy. We wouldn't even have time to think about morale or call anyone a good or bad boss, since we'd be too busy saving the world. Join me!

  • Mike Licht

    What's this all brouhaha? Morale at City Paper has never been higher!

    Just read this:

  • JTC

    What an insulting thing to write, Mr. Wemple. I have worked in newsrooms and I can tell you from experience that morale does matter. If you ask your staff, I'm sure they'll tell you the same. I know what mean about how journalists now should be grateful they have jobs, but for the editor of a newspaper to completely marginalize the importance of morale is wrong, shameful and shows actual incompetence.