Here at the Portland Phoenix, we are fortunate to have a management team committed to avoiding furloughs and layoffs. Staffers and freelancers are valued for different skills, varied career experiences, and in my case, consistently outlandish ideas.
No one is more surprised than I when such an idea is implemented and validation becomes a warm, professional fuzzy.
With our first anniversary coming at the flip of a calendar page, the Phoenix is experiencing anticipated growing pains and situational challenges. Like other print outlets, our coverage and strategic planning need to meet the requirements of the present “normal.”
Sadly, no one quite knows what the present normal is or what the future normal is going to be.
Along with uncertainty comes healthy internal discourse, which is a good thing because it would be beyond boring without it. That, and things like compromise, intellectual growth, a new perspective, and letting go of something that doesn’t walk the paper’s path, all result in moving us forward.
With all that in mind and a heavy heart, I am sharing the news that the Phoenix has taken steps to reduce an employee’s hours. Unsure if this precedent will turn into a permanent layoff, I reluctantly agree that some course of action had to be taken. However, this employee is as misunderstood as she is dedicated, and I’m hoping to shed a little light on her perspective.
Speaking of shedding, the employee is our director of morale, Mellie, the office dog.
Although she is an excellent close-range investigative reporter who can scoop out a food scrap, wrapper, or three-day-old plastic utensil under a desk, Mellie’s interpersonal office work style is not always cohesive with the near-quiet required in a small newsroom on a perpetual deadline.
Intensely protective of the staff, Mellie knows our nation’s president speaks ill about the free press. She bristles, ears back, when stories and updates published by The New York Times are called “fake news.” Mellie is also keenly aware of the danger and negativity journalists have been subjected to in the United States and worldwide.
Fulfilling the need to inform the staff when someone comes into the office, Mellie’s bark never fails to surprise. The loud vocal alarm can be a bit unsettling for a reporter on the phone getting a quote from the mayor, or during a Zoom sales meeting in the conference room. We currently have two different postal carriers, a UPS driver, a FedEx driver, and a neighboring dentist who visit at any hour of the day, resulting in Mellie working overtime to keep us safe.
What senior management fails to realize is Mellie knows when the daily mail deliveries are for our accounts payable inbox, or our accounts receivable inbox, much preferring the latter. To date, her fiscal sense of responsibility has not kept any delivery person from walking through the door. It may have something to do with them calling her bluff with never-ending treats provided by my front-desk colleague, as well as scratches behind the ears.
“You definitely get a bark of caution when walking in,” said one of the uniformed regular couriers. “But her tail starts wagging and it becomes a pleasant surprise when you meet her face-to-face.” Knowing face-to-face is the key, Mellie used to bark at the reporters and even had the chutzpah to bark at our editor. This is the same executive editor who has two different kinds of treats on the credenza behind her desk.
No dummy, Mellie no longer barks at the head of our pack and was even invited to attend a lakefront weekend with our editor and a few other co-workers. Not much for brainstorming (unless it has to do with chasing a critter), she didn’t have to remind us that all work and no play is unhealthy.
Dogs, in general, are excellent for the workplace (when people are actually there), increasing happiness-inducing hormone levels, and assuaging the anxiety and stress of many workers with the nudge of a wet nose. There is no shortage of blogs and articles about the upside of four-legged employees, regardless of the size of the company, and Google even has an on-site dog park called Doogle.
To salvage Mellie’s position, I’m investigating hands-on training options to determine if the instinct to warn and protect can be redirected into a more discreet and professional method. Her work otherwise has been exemplary, bringing smiles to all and lightening up our newsroom with visits from one staffer’s office or cubicle to the next. When not checking in, she’ll curl up in a sunny spot, with a gnawed elk antler, or a squeaky squirrel toy, which was a coveted gift from our publisher.
To date, an official meeting with Human Resources has not been scheduled. I’ll keep you posted on Mellie’s status. Until then, hold your heads high, keep your barks low, and hope for the best. Professional or not, we could all use a warm fuzzy right now.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].
Mellie, the Portland Phoenix office dog, hails from Jackson, Mississippi. As a puppy, Mellie made her mark on the Clarion-Ledger newspaper, while sniffing out happy stories and hidden treats. In her new position as director of morale, Mellie brings her wet nose for news, along with assisting on sales calls and spreading the Portland Phoenix organizational philosophy of tail-wagging positivity.