Friday, October 8, 2010

Demoted Editor's Gender Bias Suit Cites Advertiser Pressure

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Former Stoughton Hub Courier Editor Autumn Drussell has filed a gender discrimination suit with Wisconsin's Equal Rights Division against the weekly newspaper's publisher, the Woodward Communications, Inc.-owned Unified Newspaper Group, claiming she was demoted for a column she wrote, though a male supervisor who reviewed the column was not disciplined.

Drussell still works for the paper as a reporter and page designer, but is seeking reinstatement as editor, along with lost wages and attorneys fees, according to an Associated Press story.  She alleges that her demotion was in reprisal for a column she wrote last July after attending a Chamber of Commerce function in which she admonished local businesses to improve customer service and appeal to frugal patrons to compete with discount giants such as Wal-Mart and Target. Drussell wrote that the faltering economy had her shopping at the economy chain stores.

A local hardware store owner said he would no longer advertise with the Hub Courier until the economy approved, echoing the sentiments of several area advertisers who complained about Drussell's column.  A week after the column ran, the Hub Courier wrote an editorial imploring readers to shop locally and conceding that many businesses felt "betrayed" by Drussell's column.

Drussell's complaint claims that she lost her editorship days after the column appeared and that her employer pressured her to sign a document in which she agreed to 90 days probation and to stop writing columns.

Advertisers exerting influence on media outlets is nothing new and cannot be ignored in the harsh economic climate that newspapers and television news stations presently face.  Still, if Drussell's claims are borne out, the Hub Courier may have to undergo a name change to "Water Carrier."

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