SALINA, KS—Shipping department manager Nathan Harrity refused to apologize Monday for the controversy surrounding the November issue of Shoppe Talk, the Vitamin Shoppe corporate headquarters' internal newsletter.
"People don't like to hear the truth," Harrity said. "I knew the parking-space article would upset a few people, but I'm not giving in. I know there are people who'd like Shoppe Talk to be nice and fluffy. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm not a nice-and-fluffy guy. I tell it like it is."
Harrity's editorial, "A Parking Polemic," was the latest article to raise two or three eyebrows around the office.
"Nathan really took the company to task for designating that entire front parking section for visitors," said receptionist Debbie Jurgens, who was among the handful of Vitamin Shoppe employees to read the article. "And that part about the sales managers getting the spaces closest to the building, despite the fact that they're out of town a lot—I was sorta surprised he wrote that."
Harrity, who writes the vast majority of Shoppe Talk's stories in addition to editing the newsletter and overseeing its printing and distribution, said he wrote the controversial article "to get people talking and to inspire change."
"I know a lot of other people are thinking that same thing about the parking lot—I just put it down in black and white," Harrity said. "Yes, I understand that when the sales managers are here, they're going in and out of the office a lot, but someone had to present the other side of the issue. Luckily, this office has a public forum."
Although Harrity said he's heard several coworkers express similar opinions about the parking problem over drinks at a nearby Houlihan's, he expressed a willingness to accept full responsibility for the opinions expressed in his article.
"It was my decision to champion the parking cause and publish the article, so I don't mind taking the heat," Harrity said. "I'm sure the company execs aren't happy that I'm using company paper and copiers to criticize their policies, but short of shutting me down, there's not a whole lot they can do."
"They should be grateful I didn't name names," Harrity added.
Harrity said he's heard comments ranging from "Interesting newsletter this week, Nate" to "I'm not sure that essay was a good idea."
"I think people got accustomed to the newsletter being only about event reminders and human-interest bits," Harrity said. "They aren't used to someone taking employee issues seriously. But I want to give everyone the real story on our dental benefits."
Added Harrity: "Oh, and don't forget about Gail's going-away party this Friday at Houlihan's. It would be nice if everyone showed up."
Harrity took over Shoppe Talk in May 2004 after previous editor Lila Nessman was promoted to vice president of marketing.
"Under Lila, Shoppe Talk was professional, but a little soft," Harrity said. "Her idea of an office newsletter was an article about the most recent sales-award winners padded out with the monthly calendar, a little seasonal clip art, and a 'Did You Know?' trivia section. When I took over, I did a complete redesign, got rid of the clip art, and doubled the length of the paper to four pages."
"I tried to get rid of 'Did You Know?' but too many people complained," Harrity added.
Although Harrity has encouraged coworkers to submit items to Shoppe Talk, he said he has received very few strong submissions.
"No one else will put their ass on the line," Harrity said. "Fine for them, but that's not the way I was raised. Nor is it news. If there's something rotten in Denmark, I can't keep quiet about it."
Harrity cited several changes that have occurred in the office as a result of his stories, including the reduction of dirty dishes in the office sink, the installation of new carpeting in the reception area, and the outing of gay coworker Martin Killgraves.
"That article about Martin was an accident," Harrity said. "I really thought everyone knew."
While the company president's personal secretary reported that she doesn't believe anyone in upper management has read the parking article, at least one of Harrity's coworkers said he is willing to support the editor, should a problem arise.
"Oh, yeah, the parking thing Nate wrote," information-technology specialist Michael Levans said. "Yeah, I totally support that. All the sales managers here are complete morons."
"I don't usually read the newsletter, but I saw that last one in the kitchen," Levans added. "I'm glad I read it, because I'd totally forgotten about Gail's party on Friday."