A culture of caring our employees witness often

  • Heather Ritter

    Heather Ritter

By Heather Ritter
VP/Human Resources
Updated 10/5/2022 1:03 AM

Workplace culture is a topic human resource professionals deal with regularly. Trying to change a toxic culture takes years.

Fortunately, the Daily Herald culture is one we want to keep.


Starting in 1993, during my last two years of college, I worked for a major accounting firm in downtown Chicago doing basic office work. There was no one lower on the totem pole than I.

I'm fairly confident the partner I worked for didn't know my name. I recall a time when he left for lunch with other higher-ups and proclaimed me "in charge" while he was gone, laughing as he walked by.

I interviewed for a full-time job there just before I graduated, and to say I tanked the interview was an understatement. I was shaking. Everyone was so intimidating and no one of authority attempted to make me feel at ease, like I belonged.

I scored an interview at the Daily Herald because my brother, Neil, was a copy editor there (today he's a deputy managing editor). I met recruiter Pat Palbicke, who made me feel like I was sitting in her living room -- like I belonged there. I got the job and, again, was the lowest person on the totem pole.

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Pat was a life mentor of mine. She lifted me up but didn't take any guff from me. She would regularly say, "If there is someone who needs your help and you can help 'em, you help 'em. That's all there is to it."

You hear that enough during the formative years of your career and it becomes second nature.

I remember when then-co-owner and Publisher Stuart Paddock Jr. would ask me for an employee's name, angry with himself for forgetting. I saw him look at staff members with gratitude and caring. The huge smile and twinkle in his eye he brought into a room were unmatched.

There was nothing about him that was disingenuous. You see this early and often in your career, it becomes a part of you.

We expect our employees to work hard. Whether it's a pandemic, a press breakdown or cybersecurity issues, we get the job done. So when it gets tough for one of us personally, we have each other's backs.

If there is an employee going through major medical issues -- sometimes terminal -- they get first priority in our HR department, no matter how small the ask. If an employee passes away, their family becomes our priority.


When my father died suddenly in 2004, Neil and I were still relatively low-level employees. But, there, at the visitation, were Paddock family members and other higher-ups. There was a touching letter written to Neil by our CEO, Doug Ray, who had gone through a similar experience.

Less than a year later, my son was born with special needs and required daily therapies. I had (and still have) bosses who let me work around whatever is required. "Do what you need to do," they'd say. And they meant it.

When one of our photographers was in an ICU after suffering a brain aneurysm, our then-Managing Editor Jim Baumann and his wife, Patt, took her out-of-town mother into their home until she was out of the woods.

What's more, when the Paddock family decided to turn over the ownership of the company, it refused to sell to just anyone. Instead, it went through painstaking research and converted the company into an ESOP, or an "employee-owned" company.

Selling the business to a hedge fund -- as so many newspapers have -- probably would have been easier, but that would have gone against everything the Paddock family stood for.

This is our culture in action. I can go on and on.

We are an organization that isn't perfect, but in this area we knock it out of the park. It's why employees stay.

The impact of things we say or do for others, no matter how small, can deeply affect someone. Given that I still remember how that partner treated me 30 years ago, I think I'm right.

That accounting firm, by the way, a Fortune 500 company back then, no longer exists.

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