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Journalist sacked for swearing at boss

By Steven | December 14, 2007

The Employment Relations Authority has upheld the Press’s sacking of sports journalist John Coffey. Sports editor Coen Lammers had added in some words to one of his cricket stories. The words were “New Zealand’s youngest in a decade”. In fact, the phrase should have been “New Zealand’s youngest in over half a century”.

When he saw the change (incidentally, before the paper was put to bed), Mr Coffey was not best pleased. He said something like: “leave my fucking copy alone” and “you always fuck it up” and “don’t feel too bad about it because they (pointing at the editors’ office) also fuck things up.”

This needs to be said: there is no rage quite like the rage one feels when someone fucks with one’s copy.

(This also needs to be said: there is no gratitude quite like the gratitude one feels for someone who corrects one’s embarrassing cock-up before it goes to print).

Is this really a sacking offence? We’re talking about a newsroom here. We’re talking about a sports journo. There are newsrooms where nobody thinks you’re serious about something unless you use the F-word.

The rest of the ERA’s decision makes it clear that there’s more to the firing than one outburst. Coffey had twice been formally warned about offensive and confrontational behaviour in the preceeding months: once for threatening to “wring the fucking neck” of a subeditor, and once for calling Lammers “a fucking idiot”. The first warning came with an offer of confidential counselling which he didn’t take up. The second warning said Coffey may be dismissed if it happened again. The editor gave him a full opportunity to explain himself, but in the end wasn’t satisfied, and fired him. No doubt, beneath the narrative of the legally salient facts, there’s a more complex undercurrent of relationships going sour.

I’m not an employment law expert, but the firing strikes me as harsh but not outside the law.

Amusingly, the NZ Herald’s report of the case mixes up the botched phrase added to Coffey’s story with the phrase that ought to have been added. No doubt some fucking idiot of an editor screwed with the copy.

Topics: General, journalist employment issues | 38 Comments »

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