The editor of a chain of Western Massachusetts newspapers told his staff Wednesday that he was fired for advocating for raises for female journalists, whom the publisher had described as “girls” and “selfish young ladies” for requesting equal pay.
Jeffrey Good, executive editor of Newspapers of New England’s Pioneer Valley newspaper group, said he was fired Monday after calling for a meeting where employees could question management about compensation decisions.
Rather than accept a financial severance package that was tied to a nondisparagement clause, Good said, he blasted the publisher in an e-mail he sent to the employees of all the newspapers he oversaw, including The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, the Greenfield Recorder, the Amherst Bulletin, and the Valley Advocate.
“I’ve stood for principle for my entire career,” Good said in an interview. “I just can’t walk out quietly as if I did something wrong. Because I didn’t.”
With his explanation of his firing, Good seemed to claim credit for advancing a cause that has been gaining traction as more women speak up about workplace harassment and unequal treatment. Actors who recently gave voice to sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood are now pushing for equal treatment and pay, noting the glaring disparities between what top-billed performers command.
But some in the low-income, low-glamour world of local newspapers were reluctant to credit Good for resolving a problem they think has barely been addressed. One of the women whose cause he’d claimed to be championing disputed his account, saying that her meetings with him were “secretive, stressful, and difficult to move the issue forward in.”
Photojournalist Sarah Crosby said she is “relieved that pay parity is now being discussed across the newsroom” and hopeful the discussion would lead to action.
Publisher Michael Rifanburg also disagreed with Good’s characterization, issuing a statement saying his firing was not related to the salary review and that he had not initiated it.
“We started this review, not Mr. Good,” Rifanburg wrote. “Although we cannot discuss personnel matters out of respect for our employees, Mr. Good’s transition is in no way due to his participation in the Gazette’s ongoing efforts to address pay equity issues.”
In his e-mail, Good said the pay equity discussion had been pressed since the fall by three dogged female journalists — Crosby and reporters Lisa Spear and Emily Cutts — who believed they were being paid less than their male colleagues.
“They weren’t going to stop bugging us about it and good for them,” Good said in an interview. “We hired these women because they’re smart, aggressive, and absolutely fearless. So why would we expect them to act any differently when it came to advocating for themselves and their colleagues in the newsroom?”
With the publisher’s agreement, Good said he conducted a full salary assessment. He didn’t find huge disparities — at a local newspaper like the Gazette, salaries for reporters and photographers start around $30,000 and cap out in the low $40,000s, Good said. But he did confirm evidence of a wage gap.
In his e-mail, he accepted “my share of blame for the situation that prompted the women’s protests,” and attributed it to men being hired at higher salaries due to prior job experience or competing job offers.
“They were right,” Good wrote. “I went into Mike’s office and pushed for them — and others who had not yet complained, female and male — to be paid equitably.”
Initially, the publisher supported the idea and approved some raises, Good said.
“But as more staffers clamored for raises and pressure on the budget increased, Mike became resentful and resistant in our closed-door meetings,” Good wrote. “He rejected the idea of a staff meeting and berated me for supporting it. ‘You should be a leader,’ he said. ‘Instead, you are being led.’ ”
The publisher grew impatient with the discussion, Good said. “In my last meeting with him, when he was referring to these three young women as ‘girls’ and ‘selfish young ladies,’ I was appalled.”
The three employees issued a joint statement, saying: “Our job as journalists is to ask tough questions and to tell the truth. That charge does not stop when we walk through the doors of our own newsroom. Pay parity is a complicated and important issue and we look forward to continuing the conversation.”
But later in the day, Crosby issued another statement, disputing Good’s account.
“The narrative in Jeff’s e-mail does not accurately describe what I experienced over the last several months after voicing my concerns about pay disparity,” she wrote.
She also said she was “disappointed” in Good’s decision to name the women in his letter to the staff without their consent or warning. Good said their effort was well-known in the newsroom and he intended to celebrate them, but acknowledged that he should have asked.
He also said he appreciated Crosby’s frustration at what felt like secrecy but said his hands were tied. “I repeatedly asked the publisher to allow me to call a staff meeting to discuss the questions transparently and he repeatedly refused, he said. “It wasn’t until Sarah and her colleagues took their case to him directly that he relented.”
Another woman who was forced out of the Gazette’s management three years ago by Good said she was shocked to hear him holding himself out as a champion for women’s causes.
“He hired them and he hired the men, and he told them what they were getting paid,” said Laurie Loisel, a 29-year employee of the Gazette whom Good demoted from managing editor to reporter. “He did that and now he’s trying to act like he’s the hero.”
The newspapers are among the nine Massachusetts and New Hampshire newspapers, including the Concord Monitor, owned by Newspapers of New England. The president of the newspaper chain, Aaron D. Julien, did not respond to requests for comment.Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.