Argument with publisher sparks termination
Orlando Weekly is temporarily under new editorship, and former Editor Jeff Truesdell is considering his next step after being fired.
Truesdell calls Tuesday’s termination by Publisher Mike Johnson “an abrupt end to a 12-year career” with the Weekly. He says a relatively small disagreement, over whether another department head should attend an exit interview with a departing employee, escalated.
“And then I expressed a strong opinion that, in hindsight, I probably should have kept to myself,” Truesdell says.
He says when he went to Johnson later to apologize, he was told his comment had been unacceptable and that May 8 would be his last day on the job.
Johnson declined to speak on this matter. “I have respect for Jeff, but I’d rather not comment on (the situation),” he told AAN News. He did say that managing editor Lindy Shepherd will act as the Weekly’s interim editor until a replacement can be found.
The former editor describes his relationship with Johnson, who started as publisher about 18 months ago, as “a little tense,” owing mainly to a conflict of personalities. Truesdell says Johnson “systematically chased off or fired” five other department heads at the Weekly.
“I became the sixth,” Truesdell says.
Johnson confirms that five other department heads have resigned or been terminated.
Truesdell says, however, that Johnson rarely interfered with the editorial direction or content of the newspaper, nor did the editorial department ever come under probation to improve, as did other department heads.
The editorial staff continued to earn awards and accolades over the past year and a half and is currently waiting for Florida Press Association award decisions to be announced in June (the Weekly is up for 11). The paper is nominated for two Alternative Newsweekly Awards this year.
“Generally, (Johnson) let the editorial staff produce the paper that they wanted to produce,” Truesdell says.
Truesdell had been with Orlando Weekly for more than 10 years as editor and another two as associate editor. He says he wanted to produce a “pure, aggressive alternative newsweekly.”
“I was blessed with a strong ownership that allowed me to create a timely urban watchdog and cultural voice for a region that is dynamic and fast-growing,” he says.
His career at the Weekly began with its birth in 1990 as a hybrid of an alternative newsweekly and a total market circulation shopper. It eventually evolved, in his words, into “a paper that mattered.”
Orlando Weekly has been through three ownerships, including Alternative Media Inc. and its current owner, the Times-Shamrock Alternative Newsweekly Group.
Truesdell, a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism, was with the Miami Herald for nearly three years before going back to his hometown, St. Louis, in 1989 as assistant metro editor for the short-lived St. Louis Sun.
Though he is seeking another position, he’s not sure he wants to go back to daily journalism, now that he’s tasted “the fire and passion and language” of scribing for an alternative newsweekly.
Ann Hinch is a freelance writer based in Knoxville, Tenn.