I’m sure some of you were perplexed that, after being “laid off” on Monday, lead KC Star editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah remained on the paper’s masthead (bottom of the editorial page) Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Not only that, but Yael’s regular weekly column was on the Op-Ed page yesterday, and the lead editorial — about Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — sounded like a Yael piece of work.
Puzzling, yes…Because Monday’s news that Yael had been let go struck many dedicated Star readers like a thunderclap, and Yael, in a Facebook post, made it sound like he was finished that day. “I am on to a new adventure after The Star decided to lay me off this morning after almost 37 years there,” he wrote.
Traditionally, when newspaper employees are offered and accept a structured, widely offered buyout, they get a week or two to phase out. But when they’re “laid off,” it’s usually summarily, with the cut-loose employees going back to the newsroom, clearing out their desks (sometimes with security looking on) and leaving the building within hours.
So I was surprised to learn yesterday that Publisher Tony Berg offered Yael two weeks notice and Yael took him up on it.
Now, I’ve gotta say…if somebody drops a bag of shit on my head, I’m going to make a quick exit and not hang around waiting for the stench to become overwhelming.
Yael is now a lame duck — lamer than President Obama — and people are not going to take his work that seriously the next week and a half. Many readers are probably going to be thinking, “Didn’t they get rid of that guy?”
Yael’s decision to power on for two weeks reflects the one thing that some people didn’t like about him: his prima donna status, which he cultivated and nurtured.
He was a straight arrow and always had the taxpayers’ best interests in mind, in my opinion, but he did — does — have a substantial ego. Who knows? Maybe he wanted to play the role of sacrificial lamb — targeted for the kill but not quite ready for the fire.
I don’t get it: I would have left Tony Berg to scramble for the time being and see if Lewis Diuguid, the only other editorial page writer currently, could produce an editorial page. That would have been fun to watch!
As I said in my Monday post, a big question is whether Yael will get the traditional sheet-cake-and-pizza party that retiring employees get, as well as those that are offered and accept structured buyouts. Now that Yael has decided to swallow his pride and work a bit longer, it wouldn’t surprise me if Tony Berg didn’t give him that party and also, just to carry the sham to its natural conclusion, deliver a speech lauding Yael for his 36-plus years of outstanding service to The Star…Now, that’s a party I would have no interest in attending.
I picked up some other tidbits about this firing that you might be interested in. (Got these mostly from Tony Botello’s “kick-ass sources.” Seems Tony hasn’t been giving them enough “black and white” lately, and, like all good sources, they crave seeing their tips in print.)
:: Last Friday, Yael dropped by Tony Berg’s office to tell him he was planning to come in later than usual on Monday so he could stay late that night and write about the presidential debate for Tuesday’s paper. “No, no,” the publisher said. “Come in at your usual time.” That was the first inkling Yael had that his time at The Star might be drawing nigh.
:: He’s getting six months of severance pay, which is typical in layoffs at The Star.
:: Tony Berg has made it clear he wants a “more balanced” editorial page. What that means, of course, is that the liberal bent Yael and other recently retired editorial-board employees (i.e., Steve Paul and Barb Shelly) brought to the table will be changing with the arrival of recently hired editorial board vice-president Colleen McCain Nelson. Pretty soon, we may well see a slew of letters to the editor complaining about the paper’s conservative tilt, instead of vice versa.
:: Finally, ever since the dust-up over guest columnist Laura Herrick’s controversial piece about rape last July — a column Tony Berg apologized for and had removed from the website — Berg insisted that every editorial and every Op-Ed piece be submitted to him, for review, before publication. I’ve never heard of that before. But, you know, it’s a new day at The Star. It’s now Tony’s show, and he made it clear from the day he took over last January, when he vowed to fix the circulation problems, that he was going to be a very hands-on publisher.