Judge awards fired newspaper editor jobless benefits

By: - November 18, 2022 1:31 pm

The former editor of a weekly Iowa newspaper did not commit misconduct by publicly calling for action to save the 136-year-old publication, an administrative law judge has ruled. (Photo by Getty Images)

The former editor of a weekly Iowa newspaper did not commit misconduct by publicly calling for action to save the publication, an administrative law judge has ruled.

Tyler Anderson, who worked for the weekly Lake City Graphic-Advocate since 2019, was fired from the newspaper in April 2022. At the time, his employer, Mid-America Publishing, cited a company policy barring employees from sharing confidential information about the business.

State records indicate the company’s dispute with Anderson dates back to late 2021, when Anderson’s supervisor retired, and he became the de facto editor of the newspaper.

Sometime in April 2022, Mid-America’s CEO, Matt Grohe, texted Anderson, stating: “Hi Tyler. Just a heads up, we’re closing the Lake City Graphic. Final edition will be May 4th. We appreciate all your efforts but with not being able to hire over there we’re in an untenable position.”

At that time, the company had not made any public statements about the closure, and it considered the information about the planned closing to be confidential, according to state records.

Tyler Anderson, then the editor of the Lake City Graphic-Advocate, tweeted information about his boss’s plans to close the paper earlier this year. (Screenshot by Iowa Capital Dispatch)

On April 12, Anderson posted a screenshot of Grohe’s text message to his personal Twitter account, with the added comment, “When your company’s CEO sends you this information, what do you do?”

Later that same day, Anderson retweeted, through the newspaper’s Twitter account, his own tweet about the text message. Anderson also posted to his personal Facebook page Grohe’s text message, along with a call to action soliciting support to help save the newspaper.

On April 14, the company suspended Anderson for violating its confidentiality policy by publicly posting Grohe’s text message and for not signing an acknowledgement that he had read the employee handbook.

Anderson then posted to Twitter a new message: “Just got a phone call from the brave and fearless leader. I got suspended until further notice. Folks, this person wants to get rid of me for releasing information that the public needs to know. Don’t let people like this take away your local news source! #SaveThe GA.”

On April 15, the company fired Anderson, with Grohe sending Anderson a text message telling him his employment was terminated effective immediately. That same day, Anderson tweeted, “I am justified in my actions. I did the right thing. I have the moral high ground in this fight. This incredible community deserves a great newspaper.”

On April 26, Grohe posted a note to Facebook in which he said the decision to close the paper wasn’t made lightly. “The paper hasn’t made money for years,” he wrote. “Last year wasn’t so bad, it only lost $18,000, but it’s on track lose more this year, so we’re exploring options. It is a business after all.”

After Anderson applied for unemployment benefits, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno, who recently ruled that Mid-America had “failed to establish that Mr. Anderson’s April 14 actions were misconduct,” and he awarded Anderson jobless benefits.

Anderson said Friday that Mid-America appealed the judge’s decision to the state’s Employment Appeal Board, at which point he decided not to pursue the matter any further. He said he may have violated the company’s confidentiality policy, but that the Graphic-Advocate had been his “heart and soul” for three years.

Grohe said Friday that Mid-America had been looking forward to having its appeal heard by the board.

Mid-America eventually retreated from plans to shut down the Graphic-Advocate, then initiated efforts to sell the paper, which led to a dispute with Nelson Media Company over ownership. For a brief period, there were two different and competing versions of the Graphic-Advocate being published. Nelson ultimately opted to launch an entirely new publication, the Calhoun County Phoenix, where Anderson now works, leaving Lake City with two newspapers.

Mid-America publishes 22 community newspapers in Iowa, some of which use content provided by the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.