A Bad Joke

So I’ve been away the past couple weeks, and I’ve still got quite a bit of work ahead of me. Some major changes going on and my time to ramble on here has been somewhat limited of late. But today, I felt like I had to comment on something that has played a bit of a role in my approach to things recently and a few major life decisions coming up.

Anyone who reads this regularly will remember that about a month ago, I revealed a little insider information on who the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce was going to award its Company of The Year honor to on June 18. At the time, the selection of Chesapeake Publishing, owner of the Cecil Whig, seemed like a perplexing decision, given as the selection was made almost immediately on the cusp of Chesapeake’s choice to shutter the long-standing Elkton printing plant, eliminating dozens of Cecil jobs in the process. That, on top of consistent cutbacks and layoffs over the previous 18 months or so, just had me shaking my head in wonderment how the Chamber could possibly justify this kind of move.

Well, after a little digging around and research, I discovered that the Cecil County Office of Economic Development also supported the choice (maybe we should rename it the Office of Economic Retraction?), and that the Chamber itself circled the wagons after the initial poor public reaction to the news, and developed a justification involving something about successful internet integration. Yeah, okay. I even spoke to a couple members of the Chamber’s Board who informed me that Chesapeake was not only the winner of the award but they were the only company even nominated by a small committee consisting of a Chesapeake employee and a couple others. One of the Chamber members I spoke to, who requested to remain anonymous, even went so far as to say they were finished with the organization after this matter.

Well, on Friday night, Chesapeake was, in fact, given the Company of the Year award. There’s a little mention of it in today’s paper. The most interesting line was that the company was “accepting the award on behalf of the 250 people who work together to publish the Cecil Whig.” Of course, only about 30-40 of that 250 number are actually still employed in Cecil County, with the rest of the 100-150 jobs that used to exist in Elkton either being outright eliminated or shipped to the corporate office in Easton. There’s even a quote from Publisher David Fike about how change isn’t easy but necessary. Interestingly, there are two obvious typos in the quote; a double period and a set of quotation marks in the wrong place. I guess the changing landscape of the newspaper industry precludes the involvement of actual copy editors.

But again, don’t get me wrong. Chesapeake has every right to do whatever they have to to survive and deal with the economic issues going on today. As I’ve said before, the problem here is the local groups rewarding them for it. There is no doubt that the restructuring at the Whig is bad for Cecil County economically. We’ve lost work, we’ve lost jobs, we’ve lost a manufacturing facility. How can organizations dedicated to improving economic circumstances in the County possibly reward a company that has engaged in this type of stuff, however justified for them it may be? It’s a slap in the face to every Cecil company who is successfully dealing with the current economic issues without eliminating jobs and outsourcing work. It’s, to put it simply, a disgrace.

I’m not typically so blunt with my opinions, but this situation is pretty telling. It’s more important to these organizations to suck up to the local newspaper than it is to actually recognize real economic progress within the County. And, honestly, speaking as someone who has been intimately involved with start up publications, and even being a publisher myself for a while, there is no way I would have accepted an award like this in similar circumstances even if given. And I certainly wouldn’t have lobbied for it. Thanks but no thanks. I would have had a little respect for the community I was trying to serve by allowing someone who really deserves the recognition to receive it, not just so I can hang another plaque on the wall, have a soundbite in the paper, and call myself an “award-winning” company. An honor like this that isn’t really deserved has no meaning. And I suppose that’s my real problem with this. We are in one of the worst economic periods in my lifetime, or any of our lifetimes. It’s tough out there. And where do we turn when the groups that are supposedly working to improve things take actions like this that really undermines their credibility?

So, begrudging congratulations go to Chesapeake Publishing. Cecil County, you deserve much better.


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