Simmons Says - My work ethic is evident
This is no joke – and I really hope Geoff Griffin won’t get mad that I share our conversation - but just a few days ago, we were at an event and I told him to monitor me this fall. I wanted him to tell me to shut up if I started clowning on the paper because it’s really beating a dead horse anymore.
As I told him, the people I see at games from there are ones who had no hand in doing me dirty. In fact, I think some of the youngsters over there are showing promising signs of becoming good local journalists. Just recently, some of their work was mentioned on the WCSA podcast and I encouraged people to go read it – you can hear it here (14:50 mark).
On that podcast, I ended the quick discussion with, “I know they are the rivals, but I’m softening on the rivalry.” Well, dang – maybe I spoke too soon.
The following is an excerpt from Sunday’s column written by my former co-worker at the local paper, Lisa Hobbs. The title of the column is, ‘Workforce still trying to recover.” It’s on their website, www.southernstandard.com, if you want to read the whole thing:
A workaholic would never demand to be laid off. It’s not in our DNA to not work. FYI, we had one – and only one – of those here at the Standard.
While that person will never admit it publically [sic], they repeatedly asked to be laid off so they could collect the extra $600 a week for as long as it lasted. That’s exactly what happened.
I’ll be honest here, I voiced a desire for that individual to not return. For those of us who continued to work, it was a slap in the face. Dedicated staff kept the doors open and we did it because a community without a newspaper is bad news. We provide a valuable service to the community. Sadly, some people don’t realize just how important the Southern Standard is. I hope to never see the day when it's gone.
I’ll have to check if violated the fair use copyright, but I think we’re in the clear. I think it’s only fair to be able to share the words because I know exactly who she is writing about in her column.
It’s me! I’m the person and I’m right here, PUBLICLY, saying this is a load of bull.
I’ve explained my departure from the paper in the past, but the crux of it I explained in a column last year. Here it is: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/out-on-my-own
But, since she wants to tell her version on information I'm sure has been trickled down to her by people who surely have ZERO reason to make me look bad, I’ll be a good reporter and provide context while filling in the blanks.
What wasn’t pointed out:
When I moved back to being sports editor full time (I was previously ad director and had filled in writing sports as well) in January 2018, I had a discussion with my boss about what my pay would become on a Friday. My pay was going to go down $3,500. By the following Tuesday (Martin Luther King Day was Monday – I know all these dates), I was left with a contract that cut my salary by over $10,000.
I still stayed and I still worked, earning the paper awards in sports coverage, sports reporting and sports photography for my work.
In January 2020, I was taken off salary and put on hourly wages. The reasoning? It was when the salary minimum came into effect and any salary worker had to make at least $35,568. Because of my cut, I was (well) below that number and they weren’t going to make the effort to bump me up to that number.
The person over me made it very clear that my job could be done in 40 hours a week. But here’s the things about my position that had changed from 2010 (when I started) to 2020:
I had been promoted from sports writer to sports editor (No extra pay, no extra work was how it explained).
I was building my own sections and doing my own tabs (when I started, I only wrote stories, covered games and took pictures). This was a project I took over on my own because I enjoyed the work – Maybe I was a workaholic?
I was the only person in the room who covered events, took pictures, wrote stories, built their own section and edited it (though, admittedly, I was lax at that last part). Also, I distinctly remember Duane Sherrill trying to launch a weekly/tri-weekly video series about previewing the upcoming news and I was the only reporter that participated in the segments multiple times.
I started a social media page and was operating it to get the paper more in line with being able to break news immediately.
The salary drop was minor footnote in 2020. The real news came a few months later.
COVID-19 wrecked everything. The big takeaway from its impact is how it continues to reveal the true nature of people. Here’s what I remember from those first few months.
At the paper, COVID wasn’t the only thing causing issues. There was MAJOR drama behind closed doors, and she knows exactly what I’m talking about (as do the many people who were working there at the time that fled for higher ground far sooner than me).
Presenting my departure as me just taking the Trump money and running is super convenient (but hey, I did get that money). It’s also jaded, misleading and it’s just not even remotely close to what happened.
Because of the drama that happened, there was already an office meeting where my job, her job and many others were put on notice. It wasn’t right to me, to her or to anybody. It was bush league (and, in my mind, borderline illegal considering the circumstances) and it also was the beginning of the end of my time because management was angling to kick me out (I was just too dumb to realize it in the moment).
Here's something also left out – I didn’t leave immediately when COVID hit. I actually started working more. Don’t call this fuzzy memory either – here’s a portion of what I wrote on May 26, 2020 to corporate management about my work details in the final months (I was detailing my experience after I was informed I wouldn’t be brought back from TEMPORARY unemployment):
I was working from home trying to do sports - we put out normal sports sections three days a week for first five weeks after COVID-19 shut down all sports, along with me adding a five day a week online feature called "On This Day" where I took a look back at previous sports sections matching that date.
In that time after COVID-19 shut down sports, I actually was putting out more copy and more feature stories between print and internet to replace the fact there were no games, along with no action photos. I had also completed a spring sports tab and also wrote three stories for a "Living 50-plus" special publication at Mr. Clark's request.
There were also requests made for me to help out with the "We are MT" website. The first article I submitted never made it past first read - to my knowledge, it was never given any thought of being published … Personally, I had no hard feelings about Mr. Clark writing business stories and not using mine. He's an award-winning business writer and I'm an award-winning sports writer - it's best we do what we do best.
After my foray into helping with the website floundered, I focused on what I was hired to do - write sports. At the time of my lay off, I was compiling sports stories for White County and Putnam County - both in the coverage range of "We Are MT." Mr. Clark was aware I was working on sports stories.
When the games shut down in mid-March, I gave Mr. Clark and Mrs. Zechman a list of stories I would be completing and a general time frame of papers I could fill. At that time, I told them I could get us through April without games. If - by late April - there were no more games still, then we'd have issues continuing to do full sections of sports content.
----- On Monday, April 27 - the city of McMinnville Parks and Recreation department made the decision to cancel its spring/summer sports leagues. Those leagues (softball, baseball and soccer) are our bread and butter content from May-July, along with county softball leagues. At that same time, three county softball organizations (Midway, Morrison and Centertown) were unsure if they would have games. At the very least, the prospect of returning to fields looked like it would be after July 4.
On that same day, longtime sports writer in the Midstate Maurice "Mo" Patton was laid off at his paper. The statewide Tennessee USA Today sports editor for high school sports, Tom Kreager, was furloughed. The writing seemed to be on the wall.
The discussion became how they could perhaps try to find other assignments for me to do, cut my hours or I could be laid off. After talks with Mr. Clark, it became apparent the thing would be to lay me off with a temporary designation.
This designation came on Thursday, April 30. Despite not being an employee anymore, I completed the Sunday, May 3 sports section on Friday, May 1. I also used vacation time I had saved to supplement my pay that week instead of reporting that I worked on Friday, May 1
So from January 2018 to late April 2021, I had my pay cut $10,000, was taken off salary and had multiple conversations about my job status (if I would have it or my normal hours). Left with the prospect of having more money taken away, I decided it would be more prudent to take a temporary layoff.
There were never “repeated” instances of asking to be laid off. It all stemmed from one conversation where my boss off-handily said, “we’d all make more money being laid off,” and, in the same afternoon, we were discussing how I was likely to lose hours and pay, which spiraled into a discussion about me being laid off instead. Those conversations – from the first mention of layoff – to the signing of the paper were probably in the span of 48 hours.
I didn’t leave the paper high and dry as it’s being portrayed. In the two months after my layoff, there were five times when sports were on 1B (and it was one page each time). Had I stayed and continued to try to do sports, I would’ve had my hours cut and – as people who work there know – those things don’t come back quickly, if ever. My job was sports editor and there were no sports – the list of sports writers who went on layoff in 2020 is long, I’m not some rare case.
I didn't ask to be laid off because I didn't want to work - I was laid off because I didn't have work to do. And it made no sense for me watch my pay get cut more and more. There are people who I like and respect who probably still think I "took an easy way out," but I hope they also realize I wanted to be back and expected to be back. This narrative of me quitting on them is fiction - I was working hard up to, and after, I got my papers and was already working on stories I was going to run when I got back. I ran out of things to do - they knew it and I knew it.
Also, I never refused to do extra work. I wrote stories for other parts of the paper and a, now defunct, website in my final weeks. I organized the archives. I started an online series to provide more content. I still have the separation notice - It was temporary. And again, on my final paycheck, I didn’t document hours I WORKED and took vacation hours that I WAS GOING TO GET PAID ANYWAY, just to save the business money.
When I left, I was told I’d probably be back in 2-3 weeks – a month at most. I still sent in tips for stories via texts and emails while I wasn’t there. Just days before I would get a call saying I wasn’t welcomed back (after already finding out they were shopping my job to others), I had been informed I had won TPA awards for sports writing, sports coverage and sports photography again.
I stopped filing unemployment well before I ever started making money with my website. I went over three months with zero income in the opening days of the WC Sports Authority (And that’s while I was getting info that people from where I used to work were actively running down my name to would-be customers and advertisers - It didn’t work, sorry!). If I wanted to be a leach on the system, I still could be getting unemployment and doing nothing. Instead, I started my own business in the middle of the pandemic!
As much as it ticks me off to see somebody I worked with and liked frame me as a quitter – and really, thought enough of it to boast that, during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, you wanted to keep somebody you worked with for a decade from getting their job back – I think it bothers me more to imply my work ethic lacks.
Let me borrow the “Webster’s dictionary defines,” style of writing by using the same Workaholic definition from Wikipedia: “A workaholic is a person who works compulsively. The person works at the cost of their sleep, and social functions such as meeting friends or family. While the term doesn't necessarily imply that the person enjoys their work, it can imply that they simply feel compelled to do it.”
Here's a quick way to figure out if I was a workaholic when I was at the paper – look at how many people it took to replace me! When I was writing there, it was a one-man show for a decade. Now, I routinely see 3-4 people from the paper at events and there are even more helping with other stories. I may be the best job creator in Warren County!
Why does it take that many people to do what I do? Well, consider that I routinely stay up until 3-4 a.m. writing stories, updating my website, building ads, sending out ad proposals, etc. That’s not three days a week either – that’s every single day. I’m at games, practices and events all the time while also talking to people about things I can’t see myself so I make sure they’re covered too.
Anybody in my family and every friend I have will have countless stories of me working through our conversations, leaving events early (or not showing up at all) or bringing my laptop with me to meals (I post up at Mud Bums regularly) so I can work.
Here’s one: Ask my ex-girlfriend about my work ethic when it comes to writing sports in Warren County. She’s somebody I was 100 percent convinced I was going to marry and, to this day, I think she still feels like I picked this career over her. Actually, don’t ask her – she’s happy now and that’s a good thing.
Or let’s think of this – I have had multiple offers from other businesses to come work for them over the years. I also got offers from other publications for better job titles, lesser hours and/or equivalent (and sometimes, better) pay. At any point, I also could’ve become a teacher and started to make significantly more money than I was ever paid at the paper.
I continued, and will continue, to write about Warren County sports. It’s what I love to do in life. And I’ve done it incredibly well, including at a place that wants to tarnish me now because I’m a huge thorn in their sides.
The Warren County Sports Authority isn’t going anywhere. If people at the Standard want to make sure the paper never goes anywhere, like the column claims, then here are some tips:
Get management that understands the 24/7 news cycle
Stop letting longtime employees go and trashing them as they hit the road (seriously, I could name five people – not including me - with over 100 years combined experience at the paper who left on bad terms there and they’re all labeled as ‘Bad Apples,’ in the building. If you employed somebody for 10-plus years and then, when they leave, you’ll tell anybody that listens that, “they should’ve been gone years ago,” then you look dumb for letting them work there for decades!)
Stop trying to push politics that 70 percent of this county are at odds with. It’s why people have been begging me to get into news and election coverage for the last 13 months.
Actually be unbiased news (It never looks good when you blow up a mailbox bashing story on the front page and then bury it in the back pages when you find out that one of your kids was the culprit). Your agenda is constantly showing. I pointed out that CYA mindset when I was there.
On second thought, just keep doing what you’re doing - I’ll keep growing because of it. And I’ll keep growing because I work my ass off to provide the best sports coverage around.