Depending upon how high up the corporate food chain you are, you either cheered or cringed at what Jeffrey Johnson did recently. Johnson, in case you hadn’t heard, is the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times who recently made some news of his own when he defied his bosses at the Tribune Company, the Times’ parent company. When told he would have to lay off 15% of the people on the paper’s editorial staff, Johnson said, in essence, "I don’t think so." Johnson told his bosses the level of cuts would severely impact the quality of the Times’ content and make revenue projections unreasonable. He just refused to carry out the mandate. Within days, of course, Johnson was gone; fired as he most certainly knew he would be. In the newspaper industry, the publisher is generally someone who rises though the business side of the operation, as opposed to the editorial side. The kingpin of the content side is the editor-in-chief, and because of their often different backgrounds these two positions create a unique dynamic in the day-to-day management of a paper. And the best publishers are those who know when to defer to the desires and instincts of their editors. Think Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post as the Watergate story was unfolding. So when I heard what Johnson, a publisher, did – especially in light of how newspapers all over this country continue to pare editorial content, then bemoan the erosion of readership – I was among those cheering. And I cheered not just because I believe that newspapers represent journalism in its highest form and remain essential to our future as a democracy, but because for the first time in ages, I saw evidence of real courage in corporate America. Falling on his sword like Johnson did took guts, and I admire the hell out of him for it. I bring this up now because I was involved not too long ago in a situation that reminded me of just how far corporations have gone to institutionalize corporate cowardice. I was trying to help a former BET colleague get an interview with a certain network. She is an amazingly talented woman and the type of person you’d want on your side when the going got tough. And not only is she terrific, she looks great on paper. But she couldn’t even get an interview. Later, after making a call on her behalf, I was told she didn’t have experience in the programming niche the network served. C’mon. Like people from Discovery are scientists? Or ESPN staffers run the 40 in under 4.6? It’s the kind of pedestrian thinking that comes when corporations, in mortal fear of hiring the wrong person and being sued for wrongful termination, select not the best, most talented candidate, but the safest one. Slowly disappearing is any need for gut instinct, intuition and imagination on the part of our managers. It has been replaced by a paint- by-numbers approach to both hiring and day to day operations. Do we run our companies, or do our lawyers and our HR people? And need I remind you just how cable got here? We got here by being bold, by having the guts to take chances and by worrying more about conquering new worlds than protecting old ones. What Jeffery Johnson did was something every CEO in this industry should ultimately want out of his or her people. Johnson acted not like an employee, but an owner. He made the health of his business paramount, and was willing to sacrifice himself in an attempt to protect it. Symonds says, when our time comes, may we all show that kind of courage. Curtis Symonds can be reached at

The Daily


FTC Finds ISPs Collect Troves of Data

The FTC presented a staff report Thursday, declaring that many ISPs collect and share far more data about their customers than many consumers expect.

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