993 Bill Ahearn: Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished
This goes back to 1971, which is a long time ago by today’s standards. This tall, lanky, pipe smoking guy, Bill Ahearn, is back from ‘Nam and he’s working what they called “The Early” at the Associated Press. The early was AP-ese for overnight. Everywhere in news, overnights gather both the very quiet and also the very rowdy types. Kind of gets them out of the way of “regular” people.
Ahearn was -- and is -- the former. Have a cup of coffee and a conversation with him and later you realize that he didn’t say much, even though you thought he did while the coffee was going on. Gotta watch those quiet types.
Long story short, Bill rose through the ranks at the AP to become executive editor, the top news job and only one step below president/CEO. When that job showed signs of opening up, most of us thought Bill was in like Flynn. By then, he was a fixture of around 30 years service.
Instead, they canned him. No reason given. He said at the time and for years afterward he didn’t know why. Quiet guys are like that.
So what’s a guy do who gets axed from the most important job at the most important news agency? Goes to the competition.
When all this happened in 2003, Bloomberg News swooped in and hired him. But there wasn’t really a job opening and they didn’t know what to do with him. They made work. After all, this was a star catch. “We’ll figure out what to do with him later.”
Now, here it is 2012 and Bloomberg News fires Ahearn. But this time we can at least make an educated guess about why.
Seems he was managing an investigative story that the headless chickens of the executive suite didn’t much care for. The writer was a guy called Craig Copetas, previously from Rolling Stone magazine and the Wall Street Journal and another star catch for Bloomberg News.
Copetas was nosing around allegations of human rights abuses in Dubai. Ahearn was handling the New York end as editor. Evidently, the people running Bloomberg’s main business, the financial data and trading terminals, raised a red flag. Those terminals are each good for up to around $1600 a month in rental fees and there are a quarter million in service, many of them off shore, many of those in Dubai. Quite a revenue stream. “Let’s not upset the customers” can be an operating phrase. A person with knowledge of Bloomberg practices says the company would disagree with this account. A spokeswoman for the company is quoted by journalism blogger Jim Romenesko as saying Bill “...has left the company. We wish him well.” That’s Corpspeak for “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.”
Those stubborn journalists on the news side of the company may have been “encouraged” to drop or change the story. And they may have replied with some impolite variation of “no thank you.”
Thing about investigative journalists and wire service-trained editors is the fanciful belief that there really is a wall between the sales guys and the news guys. There may be at traditional wire agencies. Elsewhere, no way. And when it’s a matter of income vs. outcome, there’s no contest.
Meantime, the news company that just had to have both of these guys suddenly realizes it can live without them. And it can, but at a loss. And the loss is ours.
--What goes around comes around. McDonald’s has apologized to the government of China for selling outdated chicken. Take that, you lead-painting, pet food-poisoning commies.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2012
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