Mother of all departures

There is a bit of an art in writing a press release or notice for the staff message board about a member of your team’s departure.

If it’s written by the personnel department, they tend to do it straight – probably following some dusty old template that ensures no one can sue them over a word.

If it’s written by the boss, however, it can make for interesting reading – particularly if you examine what’s going on between the lines.

But it is rare for total honesty to creep into it, however pissed off you might be about someone’s impending departure.

So for example you will not see: “John Brown is leaving the company.

Although he would like it to look like this is his own decision, we have in fact ordered him to go as he cannot keep his hands off the younger female members of the department.”

Or: “Jane Brown has decided to leave the newspaper. We are somewhat staggered as it is the only decision she has ever felt able to make during her interminably long passage with us.”

Or even: “Trainee Joe Bloggs is leaving to join a rival publication. We would like to wish him all the best but are too irritated that he has just returned from a free holiday given to congratulate him on his return to work after the past five months off sick with stress.”

You get the picture. Although it would make the staff noticeboards the most interesting place in the building to congregate by, sadly leaving notices appear fairly anodyne.

But occasionally, especially if you have some background knowledge of the people concerned, you can read between the lines and work out the real story.

While I have no background information at all regarding the departure of Cosmopolitan editor Lorraine Candy to rival Elle, the wording of her boss, Duncan Edwards, gave me a few clues.

In his press release, he wrote: “Lorraine Candy has been on maternity leave for a significant proportion of the last two years and Nina [Ahmad, acting editor] has done a wonderful job looking after the shop.”

As reported in last week’s Press Gazette, Candy was none too chuffed at having her maternity leave brought into her leaving announcement.

But it seems fairly apparent that Edwards is none too chuffed at having an editor take two chunks of maternity leave in a short space of time – and resign to go to a rival while at home on the second one.

This is only conjecture, but he may well feel aggrieved that on the face of it, NatMags has paid for and dealt with the maternity leave consequences of Candy’s two births – leaving rival Hachette Filipacchi to reap the rewards when she joins it with her family complete.

Most media bosses, including editors, usually find they can be more magnanimous and carefree about maternity leave the lower down the food chain the woman is and the bigger the staff they have to cope with it.

But when the woman in question is senior, and their absence more noticeable and pivotal, it tends to tax patience.

Although Candy had been off twice in the past two years, she only took four months with her first child and less with her second.

And unless she is unlike any other senior working mother I know, I am sure she will have still been fairly active and hands-on with the mag during her leave.

The more senior you are, the more impossible it becomes to wave goodbye to the office six weeks before the birth, return once a couple of months later to have your colleagues coo over the baby, and then never think of the place again until you walk back in at the end of your six months off and switch your computer back on.

It seems clear to me that Edwards was also keen to stress, as one does when losing senior people to rivals, that her departure will not have any effect on the magazine.

He was able to ram this point home by saying that the acting editor knew what she was doing (because of the huge swathes of maternity leave) and that she was “a fantastic editor”.

One can only hope that Ahmad, therefore – who may well be a trifle embarrassed at having been dragged into the press release – will be appointed to the editor’s chair and has not just been used as part of a pointscoring exercise.

Mentioning people who controversially actually say what they think for a change, I was delighted to read in Dog Watches Dog the very honest quote from a sister about her dead brother.

Helen Grant, 20, told the Melton Times: “We know Gavin was an arsehole, but everyone loved him. He was a rogue.”

I’ve always been struck by the tributes people bestow on the recently departed. Every child was the brightest, cleverest, prettiest, and if that is stretching it, at least the cheekiest.

Candy’s maternity leave clearly taxed the patience of Edwards

Every young mum/dad was the perfect parent; every partner was brilliant (even if they had been having an affair with the neighbour).

And it’s easy to see why people use these terms to a paper at times like these. Certainly, if any reporter wanted me to comment about my nearest and dearest, I would accentuate the positive.

And if you were asked about one of your pupils or employees, you would be a fairly heartless boss if you reached for the most recent report/appraisal and read out the weaknesses as well as strengths.

But I still can’t help applauding Helen as a breath of fresh air, and congratulating the Melton Times for using her honest comments.

It is rare to get readers to smile at anything in a regional newspaper at the best of times, and I am sure most of them would have enjoyed the quote and taken it in the spirit in which it was intended. 

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle. E-mail her at ajh@alisonhastings.demon.co.uk. She’ll be back in four weeks.

Next week: Chris Shaw

by Alison Hastings

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