The editor of an Ohio newspaper was fired this week after she questioned her publisher about the paper's refusal to run an editorial that was critical of the National Rifle Association.
Jan Larson McLaughlin, a 31-year veteran of The Sentinel-Tribune in Bowling Green, Ohio, says she had written the editorial, sought input from her staff and planned to run it a week ago when Publisher Karmen Concannon killed it.
“I have written editorials before that have not been positive about the NRA, and those have gotten through,” McLaughlin told Media Matters on Wednesday. “For some reason our publisher felt it was insubordination for me to have our news staff read the editorial. I always have our news staff read the editorials and that has never been the issue before.”
McLaughlin said she was fired on Monday after seeking to discuss the rejected editorial last week. She said Concannon told her that her termination was due to “insubordination.”
“She said it was for allowing the staff to read the editorial before she approved it,” McLaughlin recalls. “But I submit my editorials to her each time and at least 95 or more percent of the time I never hear anything from her, pro or con. I have the staff read them because that is the next process.”
The Toledo Blade first reported on McLaughlin's firing and noted that there has been backlash to the decision within the Bowling Green community.
McLaughlin, who has been at the afternoon paper for 31 years and served as editor since 2013, said she wrote the editorial on Dec. 7 and submitted it to the publisher for approval on Dec. 8, with plans to run it on Dec. 9.
The editorial raised the issue of NRA influence on gun-related legislation and specifically a bill in the Ohio legislature that would allow loaded guns to be carried on college campuses.
Home to the 16,000-student Bowling Green State University, the community has been very mixed on the gun proposal, newsroom staffers said.
The editorial stated, in part: “The NRA has not always been the paranoid 'pry the gun from my cold dead hands' organization that it is now. It was formerly an association aimed at serving its membership by providing safety classes, marksmanship training and even gun control support. But somewhere it got hijacked from its real purpose to its fanatical presence. It's time for reasonable gun owners to say enough is enough.”
But it never made it to print.
McLaughlin said Concannon informed her via email on Dec. 8 that the editorial could not run. She said when the Dec. 9 edition was published and some of her staff saw the editorial had been spiked, they approached Concannon with a joint letter urging her to reconsider.
“When the news staff saw it was not in the next day's paper, everyone wrote a letter to the publisher asking her to reconsider, to look at the editorial again and reconsider it because they felt it was worth publishing,” McLaughlin said. “All I know is that she told the reporter that gave it to her that she would not read it.”
The letter, which was obtained by Media Matters, praises McLaughlin for having “more Associated Press honors and news awards than all of us put together.” It added, “If the reason for not publishing the editorial is to avoid what clearly is a controversial issue, we worry that doing so calls into question our ability to report news that some people might not like.”
McLaughlin said she approached the publisher on Dec. 10 and asked to discuss why the editorial did not run since her past editorials are nearly always approved.
“She said she didn't have to give me a reason and I said, 'alright, but I need to know further direction for where I go from here,'” McLaughlin said. “She said she wasn't required to talk to me about it.”
On the morning of Dec. 14, after that day's edition was published, McLaughlin said she was called into the publisher's office and given a termination letter. She adds that she was offered a $5,000 severance package if she agreed not to discuss the issue outside of the newspaper. She said she could not agree to that.
“I said, 'it's unfortunate that you can't listen to opinions that are different from yours.' It's just not good management.”
Concannon, whose family has owned the newspaper for decades, did not respond to requests for comment. She also did not respond to the Blade's request for comment.
McLaughlin's supporters in and out of the newspaper have been up in arms about the firing.
“There has been an uproar because she is very widely respected,” said Frances Brent, a former Sentinel-Tribune columnist who currently freelances for the paper. Brent noted the seriousness of the gun issue in town: “There was great concern on campus about the legislature allowing guns everywhere.”
David Dupont, who worked at the Sentinel-Tribune for 20 years until he quit last month, said McLaughlin's firing was just the latest in a string of problematic moves by the paper's management.
“Just the total lack of support in the newsroom,” he said of the publisher. “A real lack of respect for what the newsroom does. It was a constant decelerating lack of support, disrespect.”
McLaughlin called the firing “surreal” given her time at the paper and her love of the job: “I have lived for that paper for 31 years. I'm a big believer in talking things over and listening to disagreements.”