- November 6, 2009
- Posted by: Art Berman
- Category: The Petroleum Truth Report
When I got up this morning, I decided not to pack my usual snack lunch–I thought that it would be my last day. I was right–I was fired.
On Oct 22, I received two emails forwarded to me via the World Oil Circulation Department. They were from DS and KR at two Houston oil and gas companies, and they both said that they were canceling their free subscriptions due to Art Berman’s columns on shale plays. DS went further by faxing and then phoning to the president his feelings about Art Berman.
Let me be clear: The decision to pull Art’s column was due to pressure from these two companies.
The next day, the president stopped by to tell me that we had to stop Art from writing about shale plays.
I said, “I’m surprised that there haven’t been at least a dozen complaints. I’ve seen worse on other topics.”
It was no use arguing. Ironically, I had already decided that Art should take a break from the shale plays for a while anyway, just because he was running out of new things to say, having written 8 (I’m guessing) columns on that one subject.
It was the 23rd of October and we usually have all of the columns in by the 15th of the month, but we have been so understaffed–just myself and 1.5 other people (we share one)–that we are now often late. So I called Art to see where he was at on his column. I quickly realized that Art’s mind, and some of the work, were already committed. He felt that he owed it to his readers to comment on some of the recent rebuttals to his positioins on shale plays, so I decided that we’d go ahead and print what he had for the November issue.
Again ironically, Art agreed that going forward he was going to take a break from the shale topic, mostly because as he put it, “I’m not sure what more I can say.”
Immediately after I hung up the phone with Art, the Publisher walked in, slapped down a fax from DS, and said, “We’ve got to stop Art from writing about these shale plays, we’re getting too many complaints!”
I replied that I was aware of the complaints and said that the president was just in to discuss it, but that it was too late in the cycle to stop the November column but, in December, we would take “a little break.” He said “Fine.”
Normally, the magazine would be going out the door by then, but insufficient staff in both Editorial and Production departments caused further unforeseen delays. On Nov. 2, the magazine had been shipped, the “bluelines” were back (proof sheets), and they were about to go to press; we were minutes from being done done, when the Publisher walked in and said we had to pull Art’s column.
I said, “I can’t, I won’t; it’s finished, plus, we agreed that we’d leave November alone.”
He said that it wasn’t his decision, and that I was welcome to talk it over with the President, which I did. That conversation went nowhere. In his mind, there had been too many complaints (2), including 2 phone calls, and the column had to be pulled.
After three protests, including the fact that it would delay printing, I finally said, “This is a really bad decision, the best thing that you could do is nothing; there is no compelling reason to pull this; just let it go to press; the idea that we can please all of the people all of the time is impossible, unless we are careful to say nothing, print pabulum.”
Obviously, I lost that battle. The last thing that I wanted to do Monday night (along with the Production Department person) was to write a quick column to replace Art’s in two and-a-half hours; it was a step down in quality from his, and betrayed an incredibly thin skin on the part of World Oil management. I certainly would never have pulled it. A spineless Editor isn’t an Editor at all.
It’s important to know that Art left voluntarily. The decision was his alone. In my opinion, he was pissed. But then, if I worked my ass off on a good column, asked my friends for their counsel, opinion, and proofing, had the editor question a graph and ended up changing it, and then had it pulled and just set aside for the crummiest of reasons… well, I’d be pissed off too. If Art had stayed, he would have been under a magnifying glass. It’s like breaking a pencil in half and then trying to put it back together.
I got through the night, emailed/talked to Art, and took two days of vacation. A minor brouhaha ensued on this blog and elsewhere and, when I returned, I was fired. I wasn’t told why. Neither was I surprised.
In my 11 years at World Oil, I tried to take the “trade” out of “trade journal.” The current management is trying to put it back in. Increasingly, decisions are being made for the sake of advertising. Unfortunately, the last vestige of “the separation of church and state,” meaning, between corporate and editorial, is gone. The marketing folks have won. Dilettantes’ meddling in day-to-day operations is now the norm.
I dare say that the last President, RM, who was summarily fired in April without explanation (so that’s how he felt!), would have handled the situation much more deftly. (By the way, when you fire a president, aren’t you supposed to trade up? I’d bet that not one employee feels that that is the case). But RM was old school (probably why he was fired). And so am I. My field experience and physics background will probably make me the last editor of World Oil with a technical background; part of a line of technically qualified Editors going back decades.