For John Pacenti, all it took was one strike and he was out.
The Palm Beach Post has fired the 39-year-old reporter, who was a member of the Post's investigative team, after he wasarrested in February trying to buy crack cocaine after work. He never returned to work but to clean out his desk.
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"I'm trying to move forward right now," said Pacenti from his Boca Raton home this afternoon. "I know I'm a good journalist and I'm looking for employment. I have to take care of my family."
Pacenti, who has two young daughters and whose wife Charlene works at the Miami Herald, told the Pulp after his arrest that a bout of severe depression had driven him to a notorious drug-infested area in West Palm Beach. The Post allowed him several weeks of medical leave and he has gone through rehab. He's going through a court-ordered program and, so long as he follows protocol, shouldn't see any jail time.
Post Editor John Bartosek is out of town and Managing Editor Bill Rose wasn't available, so I don't know all the facts. And I doubt I'm going to learn them, since companies rarely discuss these things. But the firing seems wrong to me on its face. I thought that the corporate world knew that drug addiction/alcoholism was a sickness rather than a crime (even if what Pacenti did is against the law). We've already dealt with the dangers of the latter disease this week and now we have a newspaper canning a veteran, award-winning reporter with a family to support for one mistake he made outside the workplace.
I'm not saying he necessarily should have been put right back on the investigative team, but there should have been a place for him at the newspaper. To fire him without a second chance sends the wrong message to all Post employees and it's not a decent thing to do.