A vendetta? Read on.....

Dateline: Wed 26 Jul 2006

The concerns expressed about Mpozi's death did not come from the Putnam County dream factory, where I live.

They came from men and women in the newsroom who were there that night. They are legitimate concerns and they deserve recognition, publication and discussion. They deserve notice, which was not happening in The Star, but underground.

Dennis can say the phones worked. Others have a different story. That's why this is being addressed in-house by the Guild and HR and outside by IOSHA investigators.

No question, what happened that night involved intense panic and anguish. That is why Gannett should have had a safety protocol in place, as any caring employer would. Again, there was confusion about whether to call outside to 911, how to do that or whether to call security, which is what people were told to do. As a source observed, "precious seconds were wasted." No matter what Dennis tells you, this is real.

Did everyone do all they could? I am sure the employees and others did, within their limited power. But I still say the company overall showed a disregard for life by not being proactive. Why on earth wouldn't security have a first responder? Why aren't newsroom managers trained in CPR? Why in the name of all that is decent are these questions intimidating?

And yes, putting emergency info on phones is exactly what a smart company does -- it's on hotels where you have to dial out. It should be in the newsroom. It's another safety guard. Why should newsrooms be immune?

Am I angry at Gannett and The Star? Is this just a vendetta, a smear campaign? Those are fair questions but they seem petty in light of a good man's death.

Still, since they're out there, here's my answer.

I love newspapers and I love and believe in journalism. My father died in the newsroom in 1949, sealing my fate. He had a massive coronary and he really did collapse and die very quickly. Mpozi expressed a lot about what I reverence most in newspapers -- he was fresh, he was on the streets, he was infinitely curious. In that way, he was like my old man: a maverick. Damn good at what he did.

I retired Friday June 30 with a sense of relief. Mpozi died -- and he did not pass quickly, he was conscious, eyes open, struggling to breathe, turning from red to blue -- Monday July 3. My welcome sense of distance crystallized quickly into outrage as I learned what went down that night.

I believe, absolutely, that Mpozi's tragic death in the newsroom merits this attention. For me, it is a moral imperative to take a hard look at this. I believe this is what journalists do. Watchdog. Grrr.

And yes, I am angry at The Star, but this is no vendetta. Mpozi's death is a separate issue that I fear points to the bigger problem -- a pattern of callousness and indifference to hard-working employees.

This is, in the end, about a man's death and workplace safety. Anybody who doesn't get that, how very sad.

Leave a comment, or contact me at email -- ruth@ruthholladay.com


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