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It's hard to tell from the bylines, but the newsroom at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is full of married couples. There are the obvious, the similarly-last-named Schnedlers, Storeys and Smiths. Then there's C.S. Murphy and Seth Blomeley, Noel Oman and Cynthia Howell and others.
“It's not a statistic that I keep up with,” says general manager Paul Smith. “But I'd say there are probably about seven or eight married couples.”
David Bailey, the paper's managing editor, says it's probably more than that. Bailey has been managing married couples at the Democrat-Gazette for years and says, for the most part, it's been a good thing. He says occasionally couples are hired at the same time, but more often than not people pair up on the job and then tie the knot.
“It's actually fairly common in the industry because people in this business work strange hours and have strange days off, which kind of makes their social lives a little cramped and strange and different,” Bailey says. “They meet people who have the same kind of schedule and the same kind of interests, so it's a pretty natural thing. It's gone on at every newspaper I've ever worked for.”
Some companies have strict policies against inter-office dating or marriage, while others find it to be healthy.
“We don't have a written policy on dating,” says Smith. “You're certainly justified in telling a manager not to date someone that works for them. But if someone works here and does a good job, I don't think it's any of our business what they do on their own time or who they date.”
Michael Storey, the paper's TV columnist, married his wife, Celia Storey, the Active Style editor, in 1981 and the couple has worked together ever since.
“I'm way back in the corner so I don't have to look at her,” he says jokingly.
The Storeys both work in features but don't see each other around the office very much, he says. The couple did work closely together for one year, sharing the TV writer position, which did create a little tension.
“Management thought it would be something unique,” Storey says. “Fortunately the marriage survived that. Our taste in television is completely different. I wouldn't suggest that someone try to do the same job as their spouse at the same time.”
Storey says working with his wife has been a good thing. But inter-office marriages have caused problems in the past.
Bailey recalls a “messy divorce” years ago, but the situation resolved itself after each party moved away. Smith also recalls an incident involving one employee from the newsroom and the other from the advertising department.
“It did present a little bit of a problem, but we worked through it,” he says. “If you have two employees and one is struggling in some way, you have to talk to them about how their performance is not up to par. There's always a chance that will make the spouse mad. That's possible and I'm sure it occasionally happens, but on balance, everything usually works out OK.”
You may recall the now infamous incident in 2008 in which state editor Marilyn Mitchell went down in a blaze of glory, resigning and then firing off an e-mail to co-workers about what she perceived to be a sexist atmosphere at the newspaper. One can only imagine the kind of tension that may have caused for her husband, Jack Mitchell, who was and still is the assistant city editor. Jack Mitchell declined to comment on whether the situation had any lasting negative impact or affected his job in any way.
Bailey says the situation at the D-G is healthier than it is in most places he's worked before.
“By and large the couples here have tended to stick together,” Bailey says. “Maybe it's good for marriage because they understand what their work requirements are. It can be kind of hard for people who aren't in this business to understand the demands. My wife is not in this business but she understands if the phone rings at 3 a.m., I'm going to answer it. Or if something happens on a holiday weekend, then I'm going to come into the office.”
“I can see arguments for both sides in that there would be advantages and disadvantages, and liabilities,” Storey says. “But it seems to be working here for some reason. And that's fine with me.”