New boss wants to hire his unqualified friend. What to do?
August 4, 2014 7:37 PM   Subscribe

The company I work for has a new owner. He wants to hire a friend to do part of my job, a part I don't want to give up. This friend is grossly unqualified and downright mean, but the owner is head over heels. Help me figure out what to do. (I don't want to do the job of two people. I'm already extremely overworked. I am aware that life is unfair.) Bunches of snowflakes inside.

I'm an editor at a major-market news organization in the Pacific Northwest. The company has a new owner. I oversee the food coverage and desperately need more resources (money, manpower), but I hate owner's latest idea: hire a buddy with a blog to do part of my job, which involves a great deal of writing and editing, as well as the ability to meet super-tight deadlines, deal with difficult people, and minimize conflicts of interest. The friend works in sales and has no writing/editing portfolio. The small amount of writing on his blog is absolutely horrible (owner can't tell decent writing from crap), and a lot of content from other blog contributors (handpicked by the friend) is downright embarrassing. He mentions on the blog that he's "a total amateur" when it comes to culinary topics. There are lots of qualified people looking for media work, especially food editor gigs. They know when someone can't hack it. Oh, and the guy in question has some serious deficiencies in the people-skills department.

Other pertinent details: New owner's background is sales and marketing. A cardinal rule of journalism is that editorial material (news reports, restaurant reviews, etc.) must not be shaped by the demands of advertisers or other business interests, in part to minimize bias. Owner loves how his friend's blog promotes A-list businesses. A news organization wouldn't promote a business; it would report on it or critique it. Owner either doesn't understand the difference or doesn't care.

Bonus: New owner has insinuated that I'm not "cool" enough for my position, which he thinks is for "the biggest hipster in town, the tattooed guy who tells everybody what's cool so they don't ever think about asking anyone else." This friend of his is not cool or a hipster, in my opinion, and these things should not matter. A reputable news organization is not a hype machine for the restaurants the owner would like on his client list. I've politely told him I want to get together and talk about ideas I have for the company, things I wasn't permitted to try under the old owners, but he won't meet with me. I don't want to waste time trying to prove my value if this is a hopeless case. Is it? Am I on the verge of getting screwed because I'm not a tattooed loudmouth? What should my next move be? (Thanks for reading to the end. I know this is long! Throwaway email:
posted by hifidelity to Work & Money (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Does your organization have a manual that prohibits nepotism hires? Is there an established hiring protocol? Can you get the Editor in Chief or Managing Editor to intervene? At the very least this chump will get slaughtered in the comments section, presuming that the paper has an online presence.
posted by quince at 7:44 PM on August 4, 2014

New owner is a businessman first. He's not a journalist. He doesn't give a crap about the separation of Editorial and Business.

It seems your views clash with his. He doesn't want to change his decision. He won't meet with you. You need to either a) learn to love the new world order or b) leave with your reputation intact and move to a real news organization.

Of course, the line is becoming blurrier between church and state everywhere. So just be aware that you may have to deal with this elsewhere, too.
posted by inturnaround at 7:45 PM on August 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Leave, take everyone with talent with you, start doing what you do well, and put the bad businessman out of business.
posted by bensherman at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

This does sound like a hopeless case. Your bonus section spells it out pretty clearly. It sounds like the new owner doesn't particularly like you (not cool enough for your position? Wtf?) Not willing to meet with you to discuss things? This does not look good for you. Find a place to work where you are respected and valued or suffer in silence at your current job.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:57 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Jump off that sinking ship! Run fast before the stink sticks to you! The new owner is going to turn his new company into crap fast. At first, he's going to notice sales dropping off and he's going to try to fix things by firing people like you, who know that he's an idiot, and bringing in more losers to sink the ship faster. He will then bad mouth you all over town to try and deflect the blame from himself, saying that the drop in sales was your fault. It won't matter that the ship sinks months after you are gone, you will still be associated with the disaster. Don't be associated with the disaster.
posted by myselfasme at 8:00 PM on August 4, 2014 [32 favorites]

You are going to lose this battle if your days aren't already numbered.
posted by rhizome at 8:02 PM on August 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

There are two possible routes that I would follow if I were in your shoes, depending on what you truly want and whether any of this is possible, too:

Do you get a say in who is hired (even if your new boss won't meet with you?) If so, create a writing test that someone in editorial (not you, not the boss) assesses. Have it taken at the work place, with limited time, and require the person to quickly extract information (not plagiarize). I've seen people fail tests like this and *poof* goes any chance of a job. BUT, you might not get this vote. I think you don't have a real shot at the job based on the comments of your boss (no time to meet, doesn't want to hear the ideas).

However, forget trying to improve the place if the person is a ding bat. Instead (as long as it is not against your contract), start your own blog and just see - can you get more page views, etc.? Do the real test for yourself, not for your workplace. Can you do better than someone supporting the advertisers. Get the experience, the evidence, and go to a new workplace or self-employment.
posted by Wolfster at 8:04 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If this buddy of his sucks as bad as you say he does/will, wouldn't people end up writing in to complain about his terrible editorials and writing? The new owner might take the opinion of the masses a little more to heart.

But that seems like a prime situation for the new boss to then make you "help" this guy out.
posted by lizbunny at 8:04 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

That said, if you happen to decide to "go along to get along," start documenting everything right now (timestamped is best) because it sounds like this will incontrovertibly devolve into a hostile working environment. New guy is telegraphing his punches. Prepare to have your responsibilities pared.
posted by rhizome at 8:05 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a completely other comment I wrote before seeing the one other comment you've posted so far on the Blue. At which point, I think--I'm not saying any of your ideas for what this place should be like are wrong or that any of the people you work with are right for how they treat you. But seriously, do you even have to ask this question? Have you taken leave of your senses? There is nothing we can give you that's a magic wand that is going to make your situation anything but poisonous. I realize this is an absolutely terrible time to be out of work in your line of work, but you aren't going to fix this and you need to be making plans accordingly. You aren't going to persuade this guy of anything; you have absolutely no leverage in your relationship with him. He won't meet with you, he doesn't let you talk in meetings, this is not the time where a principled stand is going to do any good whatsoever unless you're really fond of shouting at brick walls.

This particular wall happens to have fifty-foot-high neon lettering on it.
posted by Sequence at 8:13 PM on August 4, 2014 [17 favorites]

I read your MeFi comment, too. My only advice is to run far and fast. That owner is not someone who is going to listen to you, ever.
posted by gatorae at 8:23 PM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you're eligible for unemployment, stick around until they show you the door.
Otherwise, find a new gig, take whatever they owe you in the way of leave, etc and show yourself out.

You also want to nix any and all smack-talk about your (soon to be) former employer.

Things change, and sometimes not for the better.

You know how to land on your feet, though.
posted by Pudhoho at 8:29 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would be worse for you if his buddy was a really great writer and/or editor with tons of contacts and sparkling prose. I'd start looking for another gig, but in the meantime, why not let the boss's BFF take a crack at something? I don't think the Pulitzer committee is going to care. And the line between sales and editorial slipped many, many, many years ago.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:47 PM on August 4, 2014

Response by poster: Oh, ha, I'm not expecting a crystal-clear line between editorial and sales (I live in reality), but there appears to be some major boundary crossing, stuff other media outlets wouldn't put up with. It can be hard to see the big picture clearly when you're in the thick of an unpleasant situation like this, hence my question. Thank you very much for the thoughtful comments. I'm not sure if it's a mefi faux pas to comment on my own question, so please forgive me if that is the case.

**Also, in my comment on another poster's question (the one some of you have referred to), I was talking about a different owner. New owner, new problems.
posted by hifidelity at 9:07 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the new owner is truly as bad as he sounds from your description, get the fuck out of there. In my experience, there is no telling a boss like that anything.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:16 PM on August 4, 2014

The readers who previously relied unbiased, readable reviews are clearly not going to be getting those from your current publication for much longer. It won't take them long to work out what is missing and then they'll look around for another news source.

Where will that be? If it clearly exists then maybe you can go and work there now. If it doesn't exist then maybe you can help establish it. In either case your current misfortune does give you some insider knowledge about what is likely to happen. Take advantage of that, if you can.
posted by rongorongo at 1:00 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a random anecdote, but your descriptions of the boss/new owner are giving me PTSD like flashbacks to a terrible sack of shit i worked for at an office, during a summer job in high school when i was still really young and naive.

Back then, i did everything he said to the letter and drilled a hole in my hand to prove the point that he was incompetent at directing anyone to do anything or knowing what the fuck he was talking about.

It worked, but i still had a hole in my hand. Even though other people agreed with me the guy was a dick, many didn't, and i was completely the odd man out in disagreeing with his insane plans.

And even after that, it was still a shit place to work because he existed.

I've never let myself end up in that situation again.

I also agree with the comments above that you will be thrown under the bus as this ship sinks. get the fuck out now. This is a "what's the best bilge pump to bail this water out of the titanic?" kind of question. You're asking the wrong question, because you don't need a pump... you need a lifeboat, and you need to leave.
posted by emptythought at 2:17 AM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

What emptythought said.

Workplace culture is overwhelmingly dictated from the top. Especially when there's a new top.
posted by flabdablet at 2:28 AM on August 5, 2014

Hifidelity, check your memail because I have sent you some info about a useful networking resource.
posted by Mistress at 2:36 AM on August 5, 2014

> I'm not expecting a crystal-clear line between editorial and sales

There is no line. Editorial exists just to break up the wall of adverts. You've been very lucky to work for so long for establishments that have some separation.
posted by scruss at 5:24 AM on August 5, 2014

I would start looking for a new job.

If this new guy sucks as much as you think, that's a bad sign for the company. But you can't (or at least shouldn't) tell the owner not to hire his friend because his friend is an idiot -- especially if you're already on thin ice because you're not who the owner envisions in your role.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:14 AM on August 5, 2014

On the other hand, if he does suck that much, he might leave within a year or two.

Check out his resume -- does he usually hop from job to job? If so, that might be a good sign for you, if it makes sense to play nice for the short term and try to weather it out. I was saddled with an awful supervisor a couple jobs ago, but he didn't last long. A month after he left, it was like he was never there!
posted by mochapickle at 7:48 AM on August 5, 2014

There is no line. Editorial exists just to break up the wall of adverts. You've been very lucky to work for so long for establishments that have some separation.

Think of every time you see a "Best Of (Your Town)" series in your paper. If the winning "best of" doesn't advertise with the paper, they ain't getting the promotion.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:35 AM on August 5, 2014

… uh, I actually used to do the tabulation for a rag's local Best Of and we were pretty damned scrupulous about that. We'd regularly have winners who wouldn't advertise.

Anyway, back to your question HiFi:

This sucks. You know that the real answer is that you need to get out while you can, and that you should be networking hard with all the other news orgs in your town. Overall, that's the only way you're going to be happy.

In the short term, what I'll say from my experience of being an editor is that many people wildly underestimate the amount of time and work that it takes to actually write something for publication, and that frequently when they are exposed to just what it takes to get something through, they quit rather than follow through. When I had writers foisted upon me that made more work for me, what I did was require that they a) turn in clean copy, and b) gave me no shit about changes I made to their copy. With the occasional complaints about turning in clean copy, one pedantic redline edit with AP (or stylebook of your publication) underlining all the things that needed to be changed was usually enough. Copy that was not up to our standards didn't run. "Yeah, sorry, your buddy can't write at the level and speed we require for the job. He's not less work, he's more work." For the second, if the owner insists on having something in there, fucking rewrite it mercilessly. Why? Then usually the writer complains about the rewritten copy and it's back to, "Turn it in clean and on time." Again and again, drill into him that THIS IS HARD WORK and that he's just not up to the task. Who knows? I've had some writers rise to the occasion.

If you want to be a problem solver, you can always encourage the owner to sponsor events at places that he wants to advertise. Then usually they get a blurb in the calendar, an event mention, some free ad space and are encouraged to buy more. It's a decent way to pick up clients without having to fuck the reporters and editors into doing some bullshit. Now, it won't save your ass in two weeks when you want to run the story about the rats in the pasta or something and the publisher is freaking out because he just sank money into the promo deal, but it will help.

(As for the hipsters thing, the best answer there is pointing out that hipsters don't make up that substantial a portion of your readership, and that the food writing that attracts hipsters is stuff like Jonathan Gold, which isn't so much cool as evocative and well written. You can also point out that it's better to have people working at/running the restaurants reading your paper, since they'll advertise and hipsters won't. Which means honest, ethical coverage, because people in the restaurant industry always want their place lauded but competitors slagged, so appealing to more than one place means keeping an even keel.)

Anyway, sorry, this all sucks and it sounds like you're working for a sexist shitbag. Get out as soon as you can, either by starting your own outlet or by finding someone else who's not a shitbag to work for.
posted by klangklangston at 3:22 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh and as a random bonus note, i wrote that post WITHOUT having read your comment on the blue. That comment only solidifies my point. The guy i was talking about got his tires slashed for screaming in the face of a woman who worked in an adjacent office(at length, and fairly threateningly/violently) for daring to ask him if we could make less noise re-arranging furniture/running cables/etc in the new office we were setting up. It was a totally reasonable request since it was a medical office nextdoor, and we were just a bunch of stoned teenagers jacked up on mountain dew slamming the stuff around more violently than UPS workers with music blasting.

Your whole "you're done, i've heard enough from you!!" thing reminded me exactly of him. It only gets worse. That was at the start of the job by the way, by the end he had gotten way more screamy with what began as an outburst like that one in the meeting.

I previously just thought he was a shitbag, but after reading your other post i think he's a shitbag with serious anger problems who, like the several shitbags of this variety i've known including that one, will take it out on women before anyone else because they're "safe targets" or whatever.

I think you're going to have an exceptionally hard time getting any local support on this since you seem to be in a mostly male workplace, with other supervisors like the one you mentioned that says you just need to "build relationships". It's a one-two punch of them not having experienced it, and having a bunch of preloaded assumptions about women blowing things out of proportions and other mad men-ass 1950s bullshit that's still fairly prevalent in media and tech offices.

I honestly think what you described in your post on the blue is more of a reason to leave than this. But together they're appalling.

Another note is:

I'm an editor at a major-market news organization in the Pacific Northwest. The company has a new owner. I oversee the food coverage

I'm not in this industry, nor do i really have any feelers into it. I'm in this area though, and just based on those first two details i think i might have an of what place you're talking about. I'd not only get the fuck away from this moron and his enablers, but i might ask a mod to delete or anonymize this post. Because it would be really fucked up if you left, and then your boss or one of his friends connected the dots with the third detail of "food editor looking for a job" and figured out you had dared to besmirch his good name and then he went out of his way to shittalk you to anyone who would listen and try and fuck up your job prospects.

Because it really wouldn't be out of character for this type of guy. I hate how wary that sort of thing has made me of calling out people who really deserve it online, but shit seems to always make it back to the source now that everything is so searchable and everyone is so connected. Protect your neck.
posted by emptythought at 3:47 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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