Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Black days at the Jerusalem Post

As Allison has pointed out, members of the Jerusalem Post 'Diaspora' – which of-course includes me – are 'reeling' over a new Hollinger report, showing that Conrad Black and David Radler’s corruption went further than anyone ever imagined.
Over the past few years, they stole over $400 million of Hollinger money. Black charged his wife’s handbags ($2463), birthday parties ($42,870), jogging clothes ($140), opera tickets ($2785), and stereo equipment ($828) to the company. The Jerusalem Post was part of David Radler’s patch, and he used the Jerusalem Post's Charitable Funds to get a trauma unit named after himself, and to fulfil a personal pledge to donate $25,000 to Haifa University.
It was also revealed that Radler’s daughter, whom the company was forced to hire as its New York Correspondent, was earning $62,000 a year and received a moving allowance of $16,000 – unlike the Washington correspondent, who did not have a rich father, and who received a big fat nothing.
Now, these are pretty astounding figures by any account – and most of the reports have focused on what this meant for the Hollinger shareholders, who were deprived of their rightful earnings, and to the Hollinger companies, which, with the exception of the Daily Telegraph, mysteriously never had any money for anything.
An angle which, to my knowledge, hasn’t been covered is how Black and Radler’s actions impacted their employees’ personal lives. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the saddest part of the story.
Salaries at the JPost tended to vary wildly, according to when you were hired and who hired you, and some people were very well paid. Still, while Melissa Radler was earning $62,000 in New York, a good Jerusalem Post reporter was (and still is) extremely lucky to be earning NIS 8,000 a month, which works out to approx. $21,000 a year before tax. Most earned far less.
If you were single like I was, that was hard to get by on, but it was possible. If you were married with children, on the other hand….
About a year and a half ago, everyone was told their salaries were going to be cut – because the company was going through ‘tough times’ (read: Barbara Amiel wanted more handbags). Immediately and ever since, a main topic of conversation became how stressed and sleepless everyone was because of the enormous financial hit they’d taken to already stretched resources. For at least one person I know at the Post, this meant stopping heating their house some days in the winter. Other people, adults with families who had been living in Israel for 20 years, had to start asking their parents in the States to cover their rent. I will also never forget a senior employee telling David Radler, on one of his infrequent visits to the building, that she was terrified every time she got on a bus because of the security situation.
“Why don’t you take taxis or get a car?” he asked.
“I can’t afford it,” she answered.
Radler basically shrugged in response, and at the time, we commented about how this was simply beyond the comprehension of such a rich man. Now I wonder whether the shrug covered a flicker of guilt? Probably not.
These, of course, were the lucky ones. Other employees got fired because the paper ‘did not have any money.’ Freelance reporters, some of whom were regulars and others who had never worked with the Post and were simply na├»ve, had payments delayed by months on end. Others were never paid at all.
You might argue that full-time employees did not have to stay at the Post, but most people stuck with their jobs because they felt that in the recent economic climate, they were lucky to have a job at all. Others were dying to get out of there but were trapped by their age or by the lack of journalistic options out there (unless you wanted to go freelance, which not everyone could).
The point is, however, that Black and Radler sucked many of their employees dry, financially and mentally – completely needlessly, out of sheer insatiable greed, in the worst possible faith. It makes me sick to my stomach to realize that all that suffering was not because the company was 'in trouble,' as we were told -- but was because we were being robbed.
I wonder, had they not been rumbled, would the thefts ever have stopped? Again, probably not.
Personally, I hope that Black and Radler get put away for a long, long time. My sources tell me that since their departure, conditions are already much improved at the Post. For the sake of its generally decent and hard-working employees, I hope that the paper gets an honest new owner, and that its Black days shall brighten soon.


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