Fargo Forum Reporter Rips Management For Creating “Toxic” Environment In Kiss-Off Email

Fargo Forum's Ivory Tower

As anyone who reads this blog knows I was never a fan of former Fargo Forum reporter Kristen Daum. I think she’s representative of a lot of things that are wrong in journalism and, I’ll be honest, I was glad to hear it when she announced her departure from North Dakota not so long ago.

Political reporting in North Dakota is the better for it.

But it turns out Daum wasn’t so happy with her tenure at the Forum either. In a long and rambling email in which she expresses appreciation for several of her co-workers she turns her invective on Forum editor Matt Von Pinnon and publisher Bill Marcil Jr. accusing them of creating a “toxic” work environment.

The email was forwarded to me by a reporter friend. The full email is below.

he time has come for me to move on from The Forum, and it’s a moment I’ve honestly been longing for for some time now because of both professional and personal reasons.

Professionally, I’ve felt for a while that I’d hit a wall. While I was able to do a lot in my job, there were limitations that I just wasn’t satisfied with anymore. I want to achieve more, learn more and do more than what I can at The Forum – and I believe this opportunity in Michigan will afford me that, while also allowing me to focus on a single government beat. I always knew I wouldn’t be a lifer here, and I’d like to think no one realistically expected me to be. My professional dreams are far loftier than Fargo, so I always saw this as a stepping stone to something greater en route to my goal of covering politics in Washington, D.C.

My personal reasons for leaving are a lot more heartfelt and emotional.

I’ve just seen too many changes happen to the detriment of this newspaper; too many talented people go undervalued, overworked and driven out; and too many decisions made that put the bottom line ahead of The Forum’s journalistic integrity and quality. The collision of these factors has sadly left me without the respect I once had for some of the management here, and that truly disappoints me. I once loved The Forum and was proud to work here and represent this newspaper in the community. I haven’t felt that same passion or loyalty for some time now, and again, I’m disappointed.

It didn’t have to be this way, and if you’d asked me three years ago, I never thought it would come to this.

I’ve watched a lot of really talented people leave The Forum over the last three years: Kelly, Mila, Steve, Tammy, Rob, Ryan – just to name a few. They all left for opportunities outside The Forum’s walls, as I am. But I also know I’m not the only one who left because they simply weren’t happy working here anymore. Because I’m leaving, I guess I have the freedom to ask the question I know I’m not the only one wanting to ask:

Matt… Bill… When are you going to take notice of the amazing talent you continuously lose because of the unhappy – and downright toxic – environment you’ve established in this newsroom? You don’t seem to respect or value your staff. You don’t trust reporters to do their jobs despite their expertise. You overwork the strong ones, and let the weak get by on laziness and mediocrity. And you constantly take this newsroom’s collective talent for granted. I just hope you eventually realize all this so The Forum can once again be a truly fun and fulfilling place to work for your staff.

The email was sent on what I believe was Daum’s last day at 5:08pm and was addressed to the Forum editorial staff as well as several of the reporters.

There’s no details on what, specifically, is creating the “toxic” atmosphere at the Forum, but if Daum is to believed people are not happy there. If I had to speculate, I’d suggest that maybe Daum was getting some push back from management on her biased and, frankly, not-well-reported stories and she, being naive and immature and just working her first real job, lashed out on her way out the door.

Or maybe it’s just that the newspaper business is tough these days, and Daum (among others) doesn’t understand that without the “bottom line” the paper can’t exist. This is what the trend in national print/online newspaper advertising looks like:

But that’s just my speculation, and what do I know? I’m just some portly blogger.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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