As every McDonald's assistant manager knows, there are many ways to end a relationship with a long-time employee. If ol' Chester, vet of the fry machine, isn't cutting it, you find a way to let him go out with a little dignity. No matter what you do, the last thing you want is ol' Chester picketing out in front of the store, flipping you the bird.
This is an important lesson learned by every junior management trainee, which is why it was incredible to see Union-Tribune icon Neil Morgan staging a press conference to bitterly announce the paper had canned him after 30 years.
San Diego journalism historians will spend many solemn hours gathered around the tiny round tables of the Starbucks in Mission Valley debating Morgan's place in the pantheon of local media. But even folks who believe Morgan, 80, crossed the doddering line years ago will agree that he deserved better than this, a tense confrontation with lawyers and vague accusations.
At the very least, Morgan warranted a little hoopla, maybe a dollop of respect from the Union-Tribune, his home for three decades. He certainly rates better than Channel 10's website running a poll asking, "Did you ever read a Neil Morgan column?" which is either very insulting to Morgan or very insulting to Channel 10's viewers.
In many ways, Morgan was the most visible face of Copley News, one of the few members of the management who might actually be recognized outside the county line.
At the long-defunct Evening Tribune, Morgan, who is most often described as "genial," was the three-dot columnist who dreamed of becoming San Diego's version of Herb Caen, a San Francisco icon. He gushed over his friends. Ted Geisel and Walter Cronkite couldn't order a Roberto's bean burrito without Morgan romanticizing the purchase as the eloquent statement of a grand master. Butt-smooching was Morgan's specialty, and he pursued it with glee and flair.
For better or worse, Morgan's column was easily the most widely read feature in the paper, and Morgan relished his self-perceived role as the town's official chronicler.
Morgan was so beloved by Helen Copley, the company's owner, she made him editor of the Tribune, which shocked observers who saw him as a lightweight. Under Morgan the paper had its quirks, but it won a Pulitzer Prize, something never accomplished by the morning paper, the San Diego Union.
When the Tribune was shut down, Morgan was shunted off to the role of aging columnist for the Union. Morgan primarily used the column to detail his daily lunches with the good ol' boys of San Diego and the joys of owning a cabin in Cuyamaca.
But every once in awhile, Morgan was the paper's lone columnist willing to take on City Hall and chastise the small-town mentality that so often rules the Des Moines of the West.
He may have been a wide-eyed schoolboy standing next to all the important people, but at least he wrote like an insider, somebody who really rubbed shoulders with San Diego's important people. The remaining San Diego Union-Tribune columnists get in a lather if the deputy chief of the farm bureau grants them an interview.
The current powers at the U-T seem to have problems dealing with staffers who become popular and display a tad bit of charisma. Most recently, longtime business columnist Don Bauder, the only staffer willing to challenge the business community, was sent off with little more than a firm pat on the back.
For many years, Morgan protégé Tom Blair was the biggest name at the paper, until he sulked away 10 years ago to edit San Diego Magazine, unhappy with the way he was treated. Blair's replacement, Diane Bell, writes like a junior high English teacher, complete with exclamation points and tales of lost cats. But she's much more in the mold preferred by the U-T's noticeably Pulitzer-less management-threatening to no one and eager to reflect management's Rotary Club philosophies.
Morgan, at least, could turn a phrase, display some style and wit. Maybe that makes the U-T's managers uncomfortable.
Morgan told the Associated Press he was fired for angering a senior newspaper executive who shared information with him about "a prominent San Diegan." Morgan told AP the executive accused him of lying to other managers about their conversation.
"What I've spent my life doing mostly is trying to be the moderate, if not liberal voice, on a conservative newspaper and it's been uphill all the way," he said. "I've had tremendous support from management until now."
Well, that may be a wee bit of Morgan's ego-mania talking-few see him as much of a liberal beacon. Clearly there were other issues between him and the new powers at the paper.
For the record, the paper's management is not commenting. Morgan told the AP reporter that the editor actually, at one point, offered him his job back. And, who knows, maybe the paper had good reason to cast him off.
But it doesn't matter. Either way, the company blew it. There's no arguing with the end result. Even the paper's own coverage noted Morgan's sudden departure was a "shock." Newsroom employees reportedly stood and applauded him as he left.
If nothing else, Morgan deserved a graceful end to his career at the Union-Tribune, a chance to stroll off into the sunset. Instead, we're left with the image of Morgan publicly flipping the bird to the company he championed for 30 years.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.