Last week, the Star-Ledger laid off 167 of its employees, including 25 percent of its newsroom staff. Company officials say the newspaper is on track to bleed $19 million this year, losses that publisher Richard Vezza said can’t continue if the largest circulated paper in New Jersey is to survive.
Don’t expect Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann to tear up.
On Monday, the Star-Ledger reported that Hermann remarked to a Rutgers media ethics and law class in February that it would be “great” if the newspaper ran out of business, insinuating that the paper manufactures stories to get attention.
“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads — and they die,” said Hermann, who was being recorded in the class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
A student responded: “They might die again next month.”
“That would be great,” Hermann said. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”
Of course, Hermann has created plenty of headlines before.
Hermann was hired by Rutgers last May, and within weeks, shocking reports from the Star-Ledger began to surface about her tenure as Tennessee’s women’s volleyball coach in the 1990s. She reportedly quit in 1996 after all 15 members of Tennessee’s women’s volleyball team co-signed a letter saying that Hermann repeatedly called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.” The players wrote, “The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable … It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue.”
Hermann didn’t just treat her players with disrespect, however. In 1997, one of Hermann’s former assistant coaches won a $150,000 lawsuit filed against the university after she claimed Hermann fired her because of her pregnancy.
So basically, Hermann doesn’t want the paper to stay alive because she would still have to be scrutinized.
I’m not so sure the Star-Ledger folding would be the end of Hermann’s problems. Consider the audience she confided in her feelings about the Star-Ledger: a class full of future media members. Did she really think those were the right people to bash a newspaper to?
Rutgers released a statement Monday defending Hermann, who has not apologized. The university pointed out her remarks were said before she knew about the recent layoffs. But is Hermann really too dim to realize that a newspaper going out of business results in all of its employees losing their jobs?
But it seems as though the school wants Hermann to extend an olive branch to the Star-Ledger.
On Thursday, Hermann hired the Star-Ledger’s longtime college sports (aka Rutgers beat) writer as Rutgers’ new senior director of digital media — effectively preventing one of the eventual layoffs she had belittled. A kind gesture, sure.
But what of the 167 staffers who were already laid off last week? The Star-Ledger is no National Enquirer, as Hermann wants us to think. The paper has won three Pulitzer Prizes over the past decade, and has earned the General Excellence Award from the New Jersey Press Association for four years running.
Maybe I’m indignant about this because Hermann is mocking the decline of the career field I’m entering next month after graduation. But in my view, this is an affront to the entire class of students that are about to cross the stage in May.
Hermann is paid to look out for the best interests of Rutgers’ student-athletes. And as those boring NCAA PSAs have told us, 99 percent of college athletes go professional in something other than sports. So I wonder how most of Rutgers’ senior student-athletes are feeling right now, a month away from facing the scary prospect of entering the real world, having just heard their athletic director trivialize the loss of hundreds of jobs.
I’m one of the lucky soon-to-be Bachelor of Arts in print and digital journalism who already has paid work lined up after graduation. But it’s only until the end of September, maybe a couple more weeks, depending on how well the San Diego Padres play this year.
After that, I’m not lucky enough to know what I’ll be doing for a living. Hermann is. As Rutgers migrates to the Big Ten, Hermann will be the face of the athletics program, reportedly earning $450,000 per year.
“I try to be compassionate with the media,” Hermann told the class. “[But it] is getting just more and more challenging.”
If Hermann keeps on going down the hole she’s dug herself — and if Rutgers doesn’t adjust well to the Big Ten — it’ll be even more challenging for her to hold onto her job.
Will Laws is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Laying Down the Laws,” runs every other Friday.