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Inside The Indy Star: Did Newsroom Policy Slow Response Time, Medical Treatment?

Indystar_12For those of you who personally knew Star photographer Mpozi Tolbert, who died suddenly in the newsroom almost three weeks ago, this post will make you much the sadder. And for those of you who didn't, it'll give you a glimpse inside corporate newsrooms.

Ladies and gentlemen, TDW is proud to bring you a new blog written by recently retired Star columnist Ruth Holladay, who can give you an insider's take like no other. Apologies for the excerpted language, but this is worth the breach of TDW rules. Mpozi was one of the most generous, good people on this planet, and while doing things differently might not have saved his life, this story is worth the telling. And in this town, Ms. Holladay is at the top of the list when it comes to telling the stories of people whose stories might not otherwise see the light of day.

UPDATE: Today, Amos Brown will devote part of his show, Afternoons with Amos on WTLC-AM 1310, to examining the circumstances surrounding the last minutes of Mpozi Tolbert's life. He has asked the Star's Ali Zoibi, VP for Human Resources, and Editor Dennis Ryerson for an oral or written response. He'll also try for a reaction from the American Heart Association about importance of CPR training and defibrillators at area workplaces.

"Mpozi Tolbert was only 34 years old when he collapsed and died in the newsroom of the Indianapolis Star on July 3.

"Now there's some quaint, old-school, hackneyed journalese for you -- 'collapsed and died.'

"What utter bullshit. Mpozi did not just fall down with his heart at a standstill, victim of a massive stroke or aneurysm.

"That would be tragic but at least within the realm of reason -- stuff happens. People die, even young, seemingly healthy adults.

"But the truth is far worse, and it will never be printed in the Gannett-owned Star.

"Mpozi -- a vibrant young black male, a bicyclist-about-town, a guy who never met a stranger, the sweet soul of tolerance and curiosity -- was a victim of an inept, profit-driven, cheap, small-minded company.

"Gannett is the most financially fat corporation in the now largely souless newspaper industry. But it can't afford the time or money to teach its employees CPR or employ a security team with a first responder or have on hand a pair of defib paddles to revive a man down. (Something Wal-Mart, Target and McDonald's have all managed, as they should).

"Gannett, with all its goody-two-shoes emphasis on ethics right down to its practice of hassling employees to ensure that everyone's driver's license is up to date, car insurance in place, etc., has, or had, a setup in the newsroom which DOES NOT ALLOW REPORTERS OR EDITORS TO CALL OUT ON 911."


This debate is now on Poynter - and the Star has responded, and responded with vigor.


it's reserved for people with whole brains

"Ravekid ... this is one time you should just butt out of the discussion. You've never worked there, you weren't there at the time and you're basically a pain in the ass who should learn that sometimes you should just shut up!"

Did not know comments on this topic were reserved for people at the scene.

Regarding the time line -- Mpozi's wheezing became audible about 6:10 p.m., according to a woman who was on the scene and was among many frantically trying to get a line to 911.
She, among others, then used cell phones to call for emergency assistance.
I have corrected that time element in the blog.
Thank you.

Was this referred to IOSHA? This is a workplace fatality and the Star is required to report it to OSHA as every other employer is.

Have a look at 29 CFR 1910.38 and 29 CFR 1910.151. These regard summoning emergency personnel and training of workplace personnel regarding emergencies. The Star is an employer. If this had happened next door to the Star in an employment setting they'd be burning the place down with editorial indignity.

Just trying to help here a bit.

Uh, 90.1 gets a lot of its news from the Star. The new reporters it recently has added are a step in the right direction, and they're not bad, but they're terribly green and certainly don't have any instituitonal knowledge of the city or state.

Not really surprising though. We cancelled our weekday subscription and they gave us Thursday for free to up their numbers. We finally cancelled the whole thing and they keep calling. Last week she asked if there was something wrong. Nope, I said, just nothing in the paper worth reading. Gannett sucks.

I signed up for their advisory panel. Silly me, I thought they were looking for news ideas. Nope, just people to be marketing guinea pigs. Well, none of that here ... told them to stuff it. Why should I care what a Macy's Parisian or Ayre's ad looks like? That's what they pay ad agencies for.

Sad, that if we should lose WFYI 90.1, we would have not only have no newspaper worth reading but no radio station to listen to either. Other large cities have CNN newsradio, but not here. Other large cities have multiple papers, but not here. No wonder we can get duped by people like MMM.

God Bless the Blogs! The Fourth Estate lives. Everyone should cancel their Star subscriptions and just read the news online.

So he had a heart attack, then? The whole thing is so sad.

Star management takes peculiar and misplaced pride in saying they rotate young reporters in their jobs so they stay fresh. The real reason is so they stay cheap. The drawback to readers is that Star reporters -- with some exceptions--never learn the territory, don't know the people in play, and don't know where the skeletons are buried.

In The Day, the newsroom was filled with highly experienced, committed newspeople who knew Indianapolis like the backs of their hands, took pride in their writing skills, and knew that while Star newspapering didn't pay much money, it was a rewarding job that you could keep pretty much forever unless you really screwed up or got the plagarism bug.

The Star was an interesting and important place to work. Now the product is News Lite. People don't read newspapers, Gannett complains, but in a chicken/egg situation, you have to wonder if this isn't a result of their own profiteering.

It is repulsive to think that Mpozi might have died because a security person could not speak adequate english, or that nobody on the desk that night knew cpr....

Ravekid ... this is one time you should just butt out of the discussion. You've never worked there, you weren't there at the time and you're basically a pain in the ass who should learn that sometimes you should just shut up!

I would wait for the entire story to come out before making and judgements. For starters, many companies do not block 911. Instead, they forward their internal 911 calls to their security desk. Usually, if you dial the number to get a line out (usually the number 9), then 911...you get a 911 operator. There are various reasons for this. The bad thing is that the security person can't speak English, that's not a good thing at all.

Holladay doesn't give a good timeline of events. The guy comes in at 6PM and is ok, but later has trouble breathing. Calls to 911 from cell phones are in by 6:25PM. When did he have trouble breathing? I would hope to hell that people over there are not that stupid to spend around 24 mins. on the line with security before bypassing that option with their personal cell phone. Then again, if "later" means 6:23PM, then 6:25PM isn't that bad. Also, she said that Wishard medics came who were mins. away. A lot of people think that Wishard medics come from Wishard, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the ambulances are at fire stations or out and about.

The company should have had a set of defib paddles and trained everyone to use them.

Sounds like a prime case for referral to the Prosecutor's Office.

Criminal negligence, in the least.

How is blocking 911 not illegal?

How terribly sad.
Ruth's blog looks like a good one in the making.

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