Thanks for the work, now get out

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By Sherry Robinson

Since June, 77 state workers have seen their jobs evaporate. Civil service jobs, which
 are usually safe. Some news reports noted the governor’s earlier promises to not lay off state workers, she’s also said more often that state government is over-populated.
As a new fiscal year approached, with stripped-down budgets, it was time to make the hard decisions.
In September, Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson laid off 11 people, including seven of 17 staff members at New Mexico Magazine, and another 16 at Expo New Mexico, one-third of jobs at the State Fair.
Jacobson said the nation’s oldest state magazine had lost $1.4 million in the last two years and had already cut expenses. The magazine is an enterprise fund – a business within state government that’s supposed to pay its own way.
I’ve written previously that I thought Jacobson was a good choice for the post, but we should be asking some questions here.
The magazine’s new editor, from Florida, is making $92,000 a year, about twice as much as the highest-paid classified editing job at the magazine, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. This is in an industry that’s shed jobs.
For those wages, the best editors in New Mexico would have lined up. If we’ve just eliminated the jobs of New Mexicans and hired someone from outside the state, what makes him worth that salary? And how long do we give him to spin straw into gold?
A letter to the editor pointed out that the magazine’s decision makers are now non-native white people, leading the writer to ask, “How can someone just moved here – and hired at a much higher salary – have the instincts to know what to write about our dear state, rather than a diverse staff with decades of experience, who were shooed out the door like a pack of vagrants?”
I have mixed feelings about out-of-state editors. Sometimes it’s good to have people with a fresh view assigning stories.
On the other hand, sometimes editorial ignorance leads to reporting disasters. I recall the reporter sent to fly over a pueblo ceremonial that was closed to the public, who then added insult to injury by calling it a “pow-wow.”
Like the letter writer, I’m disturbed that the magazine shed its most experienced people and then insulted them by posting a state police officer outside “just in case.”
In case of what? That some irate staffer might assault somebody with a pen and notepad?
Layoffs might be necessary, but they can be done with humanity and respect. This wasn’t.
John Garcia, who was Tourism Secretary during Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration, offered some perspective during a recent talk before New Mexico Press Women.
“The magazine has always been on the verge of going away,” he said. “When I had the magazine, we were losing $200,000 a year. I wanted it to break even.”
Garcia put pressure on the publisher, and by the second year it began to break even.
“It has to perform. If it doesn’t, we have to go to the legislature and get more money.”
That wasn’t an option this year.
Garcia added that when the magazine did make a modest profit, two magazine publishers in Albuquerque complained of unfair competition from the state and got a bill introduced in the legislature that would have forced the sale of the magazine – to them.
Another question that needs to be asked is what we expect the magazine to do. One answer is, to promote tourism, but it wasn’t long ago that the magazine was under political pressure to feature every part of the state – even the places that aren’t exactly tourist magnets.
How many strings are attached to the new guy?
Garcia said New Mexico Magazine evolved into a beautiful publication, but it has competition from the Internet. And times have changed.
That’s all true, but we could stand to see some of the administration’s vaunted transparency around these changes.

Sherry Robinson
© New Mexico News Services 2011