Without any warning about what was to come, Palisadian-Post Editor John Harlow was called into owner/publisher Alan Smolinisky’s office on Wednesday morning, June 13, and told he was being let go.
The veteran journalist had completed the week’s edition the night before and was preparing for a new week.
After just two years at the paper, Harlow was given three months’ severance and a letter of recommendation saying he was no longer the editor because of the expense. (The Post’s circulation income has been steadily declining the past four years. One of my sources said that only about 2,700 papers are going out each week, compared to about 4,500 in late 2013.)
John’s replacement, the 28-year-old Sarah Shmerling, is about half his age. She came to the Post at about the same time as Harlow and served as managing editor. She had previously worked at the Malibu Times.
I have heard and read numerous comments from Palisadians who were worried about the Norris employees who will be unemployed at the end of August—no jobs, no benefits. But Norris owners Ellen and Grant Sears told me they hoped to help them find new jobs because they consider their employees part of a Norris family.
Harlow and his wife will also no longer have health insurance or other benefits, and he’s coping with a serious health issue.
I find it interesting that few people have expressed worry about John’s future. Are people who work for newspapers less sympathetic than other workers? Just asking.
John’s most recent boss, Smolinisky, bought the Palisadian-Post in late 2012, and over the next year closed Post Printing and fired the business and management personnel, along with the three-person graphics department and the editorial staff, save for the staff photographer. And the receptionist. Those 20-plus Post employees (including this writer) also lost their income and health insurance, but unlike Norris, there was no effort to help them find jobs.
And now John Harlow joins those who have been fired by Smolinisky.
The former editor and Englishman is an interesting, affable and charming man. I first met him at a Pacific Palisades Historical Society luncheon. He introduced himself and commented something about how I, as editor of the Palisades News, was “the dark one, the one who must not be named,” which absolutely made me laugh.
We would spend the next two years at numerous meetings, especially the Pacific Palisades Community Council. We often sat next to each other at those council meetings, and as they dragged on, and board squabbles turned political, John and I would quietly share jokes and quips between us.
At one point I jokingly suggested he run for PPCC president and I could be his vice president.
In one email to me, John wrote about his prior bosses. “My first boss was Robert Maxwell, who looted the company pension and then threw himself off his yacht (or was killed by Mossad).”
His second boss, Conrad Black, walked up and down the Telegraph newsroom on the first day of Desert Storm, imitating Napoleon—and later went to jail in Florida for fraud. Then came Robert Murdoch, who bought a $1.3 million ring for a girlfriend the same day he closed down the Sunday Times foreign department.
John, the Los Angeles correspondent for the Sunday Times of London before the cutbacks, landed at the Post after a bad break: he had been offered a job at the L.A. Times by two executives, who unfortunately were fired the next day.
Now John is gone, and I’m no longer the editor of the Palisades News because I am owed wages for four months.
I love that Grant and Ellen Sears care enough about the family business to try and help their employees find new jobs. But sadly, our community is losing a vital family-run business.
And I wonder: what happens when you take the soul out of a town? I guess we’ll find out.