Terminator, Part III

By Joy Ufford, jufford@pinedaleroundup.com
Posted 2/14/24

Is this two-day-notice termination shaking my confidence? To be honest, it is. I feel sick. Click in to continue reading.

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Terminator, Part III


On Wednesday, with an apparently peaceful visit from Wyoming Newspapers’ man-browed publisher Rob, our very small but very, very close-knit staff of myself, Cali, Cortney and Eunice were blindsided by his late afternoon announcement.

He saved me for last – or perhaps I saved him for last – because my sense of fairness and self-respect always leads me to ask for raises. My own salary was unchanged since I returned as a community reporter eight years ago. We shivered through our 10-percent covid salary cuts that lasted almost two years.

When I referred to the $25/ hour paychecks beckoning in Jackson, I was told by our previous, more personable publisher that if we wanted to quit (for money), we already would have. Good point. Those who remained at their desks in Pinedale were staying because of our dedication to community journalism. I’ll speak for myself from here on, because of the tremendous personal satisfaction of keeping readers informed of the county’s controversies, achievements and everyday news.

All these years, my mind kept track of the seasonal cycles of news, planning time off – rarely a vacation but a family event – with the newspapers’ needs in mind. My large yearly desk calendars tracked months ahead for possible conflict with a jury trial, county officials’ agendas, important community events that showed off how wonderful people here are when asked to care, share or support.

I planned my few absences around the deadlines for the Sublette Examiner, my first reporter job for Sublette County. My first termination was in 2014, when the Examiner and the Pinedale Roundup merged staffs. The second attempt to be rid of me and my call-it-out attitude occurred last spring when the new manly-groomed publisher took over all of Wyoming Newspapers, Inc., community newspapers. I fought fiercely for my job back then, as did managing editor Cali. Results: a reprieve. But the ax was poised over the Sublette Examiner “to save money.”

Its closure last summer left a big hole for readers and I’ll admit, for me. I am very fond of the county’s outer reaches and tried to represent them well in the Examiner.

We were told the new combined newspaper could have a new name! A new format! Anything we could think of! That fantasy lasted about three weeks. My respect for the corporate level, already spotty, began to slide. Anyone who knows me well can picture me losing respect for a corporation and administration that was revealing its lack of concern for employees or quality journalism. And my close connections in Sublette County, Bondurant to be exact, have toughened me beyond belief.

My childhood habit of trying to call out unfairness, bias or disrespect was engrained as I aged, a personal mission of integrity, honesty and lack of fear to speak out. Most people have nicer, more pleasant ways of asking questions to ferret truth or facts. Alas, perhaps I have learn to be “nicer”? But for me, asking one question after another is the best way to understand what I’m trying to report on; if my questions are answered then I can write with confidence.

Is this two-day-notice termination shaking my confidence? To be honest, it is. I feel sick.

It’s like a divorce, which I experienced before I moved to Sublette County. You might want to be friends, you might not feel the reasons are valid, you wonder if this happened because you are somehow lacking.

One rumor of my journalistic demise is only a rumor. I was absolutely not fired because I refused to turn over my interview notes with a woman who spoke to me, therefore the public, about an attempted rape. Cali and the Wyoming Press Association backed me 100 percent. That was a short-lived attempt by a local defense attorney to perhaps take a little more money from his out-of-town client.

Rives White emailed me, without identifying himself as an attorney, wanting to talk with me about Jess’s interview and article. I declined. Then I was summoned to turn over my notes in court. The WPA attorney filed a motion to dismiss it about the same time I was informed a plea deal was reached.

End of story.

As for Joe Ricketts having a hand in my termination? Interesting. Would he or his supporters demand my firing while I’m writing about the sludge pit underlying his envisioned subterranean 100-car resort parking garage? While people send me “live” photos of heavy construction equipment trundling around his hillside during the recommended wildlife-closure?

At first I pooh-poohed that theory but what else am I working on… although I was informed that for $25 per article, I can still write for the Pinedale Roundup.

Turning attention away from myself, asking why, how this could be possibly benefit the Pinedale Roundup that Corporate is so anxious to slowly throttle? My departure leaves the remaining managing editor Cali O’Hare in the worst possible position to bring weekly readers their news. “Put a good face on this,” Manly-Brow told here. “We’re still here!”

SHE is still there. Let me explain her managing editor role. She is responsible for every publication’s collating, printing and distribution. Not just the Roundup but the ad-heavy real estate Sublette Magazine, each seasonal traveler’s guide and whether or not we have toilet paper.

She and I believed that we were fighting to make the Roundup a true source of cross-countywide news, photos, announcements and when we could, sports. For those of you who demanded sports coverage, Robert is now writing county sports from his Torrington desk. She and I are very proud of how hard we worked as a two-person team to make the Roundup stand out. It took our time, many more hours than we were paid for, but we both value community journalism.

Perhaps Corporate wants a news desert. Perhaps the new generation at the helm wishes their patriarch had invested in dry-cleaning chains. Because from top to bottom, the lack of respect for employees, journalism and the communities we serve – our readers – is very apparent. It makes no sense that someone running community newspapers to make a profit would cut its own throat.

Here’s another conspiracy theory – all of these cuts – and not only in Sublette County but across western Wyoming – are designed to lure potential purchasers? What else could the corporation that owns these small-town newspapers be thinking, if they don’t care about their newspapers, news, employees and readers?

Maybe I’m just their biggest pain in the ass and they feel nothing but relief

I am humbled by the kindness and support you’ve all expressed – thank you. I feel like I’ve made a difference.

My stubborn spirit says we’ll find a way to carry on. The next step, per recent history of terminated reporters across the country, is to start up something new so they can continue ongoing investigations and still be writing.

Very soon I’ll visit my lonely mother in New Mexico and return for the Green River Valley Cattlewomen’s (and men’s) annual get-togethers. I know a little newspaper that might be happy to have my contributions.

Excavating my desk after so many years of keeping documents and notebooks “I might need” strengthened my belief in my reporter self. Reaching to the very back of the last drawer, I realized how many topics crossed my path, many that delighted me for being real “news.” I unearthed previous awards for photography, news, feature, environment, energy and government writing.

Picking this up again on Monday morning, when I normally race to the office in the old Examiner deadline days, I feel deeply complimented at your trust, your friendships, your tips, photos, thank-yous and even complaining letters to the editor. I treasure what you all have shared with me – and your secrets are still secrets...