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Byline strike in St. Paul

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by woodstein, Jul 17, 2009.

  1. woodstein

    woodstein New Member

    Do those have an impact or are they merely symbolic catharsis?


    Pioneer Press editor: Byline strike 'very unfortunate and very disappointing'

    By David Brauer | Published Fri, Jul 17 2009 9:00 am

    No bylines, only 'By Pioneer Press staff' in this local-section front

    Thom Fladung is one of the best-liked and most respected Twin Cities daily paper editors-in-chief I've covered in my three decades on the beat. He's professional, ultra-responsive, and in all of our discussions demonstrates a remarkably long fuse when discussing various controversies.

    But there's no doubt that today's byline strike lit Fladung's wick.

    In a simmering front-page editor's note Friday, Fladung wrote:

    Some Pioneer Press journalists who belong to the newspaper Guild union have chosen to remove their names from their work in today's print editions and on twincities.com. Removing the bylines and photo and graphics credits is the staffers' right under our collective bargaining agreement. They are doing this, they say, to express their dissatisfaction over recent events that ended in a layoff, which included newsroom personnel.

    We put names on our work so that you know who is responsible and who to contact with questions, criticism or ideas. What about today?

    As always, you can contact me at editor@pioneerpress.com or at 651-228-5487.

    "I think it's very unfortunate and very disappointing," Fladung said of the strike Friday morning. "The news pages are sacrosanct — you don't take your disputes into the paper in a way that affects readers."

    Fladung says his "What about today?" shot was meant to reference "one of the most basic compacts we have" — being accountable by putting one's name to one's work.

    He admits that there's always unsigned stuff in the paper — think headlines and editorials — but that reporters and photographer nevertheless were "voiding that basic pact with readers."

    In referencing "recent events," Fladung elides the union's deeper reason for the byline strike: that owners at Denver-based Media News Group wouldn't accept potential concessions saving them as much as the nine layoffs imposed June 30.

    The union says "the company abruptly and without adequate explanation withdrew its request to bargain contract concessions" just days before a June 30 vote.

    "We're not protesting against the layoffs; we're protesting how they were done," St. Paul crime reporter and Guild Unit Co-Chair Mara Gottfried says in the release. Ownership "chose a course that was disrespectful not only to workers, but also to readers and the entire metro. The larger community suffers when fewer journalists are gathering news and checking facts."

    Fladung — who has never experienced a byline strike, despite years in the ultra-contentious Detriot market — says his written explanation focused more on bylines than the blow-by-blow that caused it.

    "I didn't want to write a longer note," he explained.

    Although Fladung references "some" PiPressers pulling their names, apparently, all but one did. The only staff name listed is sports columnist Charlie Walters, who is not a Guild member. Walters' photo and name graces his column; perhaps there was no way around that.

    In the release, the Guild states "members still want to work with [publisher Guy] Gilmore and Media News to keep the Pioneer Press profitable and a valuable asset to the community."

    Does Fladung — who's a PiPress vice president, but one who has fought for his troops in upper-management battles — think the strike will work? "I have no idea," he says evenly.

    In the interest of fairness, here's the Guild's release explaining their side of the matter:

    Pioneer Press writers and photographers go on byline strike

    Black Friday at the PiPress: Guild members also wear black to protest recent layoffs, which might have been avoidable

    As a protest against recent company actions, unionized reporters, columnists and photographers at the St. Paul Pioneer Press witheld their bylines and credit lines from appearing in today's paper, both in print and much of online.

    The symbolic one-day "byline strike" by members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild comes on the heels of a series of layoffs that further weakened the shrinking newsroom and — most importantly — might have been avoided had the company not abandoned a dialogue between it and the Guild that might have netted the same savings without losing any workers. On the eve of a Guild vote on whether to proceed, the company abruptly and without adequate explanation withdrew its request to bargain contract concessions.

    In addition to the voluntary byline strike, members of the Guild wore black to work today. The combined job actions are intended as a show of solidarity to send a message to Pioneer Press Publisher Guy Gilmore and the newspaper's owner, Denver-based Media News: Guild members are unified in their disappointment and frustration. However, members still want to work with Gilmore and Media News to keep the Pioneer Press profitable and a valuable asset to the community.

    "We're not protesting against the layoffs; we're protesting how they were done," explained St. Paul crime reporter and Guild Unit Co-Chair Mara Gottfried. "We know the company, like the entire newspaper industry, is under tremendous financial pressure and sees the need to cut its costs. But they chose a course that was disrespectful not only to workers, but also to readers and the entire metro. The larger community suffers when fewer journalists are gathering news and checking facts."

    On June 30, the company laid off 11 Guild workers: Nine in the newsroom and two in advertising. Before those layoffs, the company had approached Guild leaders and requested savings through contract concessions. The company was aware that June 30 was the date when Guild members were scheduled to meet and vote on whether to begin bargaining over concessions. But days before, the company notified Guild leaders it was withdrawing its request to negotiate.

    The Guild requested a chance to talk with company managers if layoffs were in the offing. But Guild members were never given a chance to talk or negotiate before the layoffs. Last week, Guild members overwhelmingly voted to approve the byline strike.

    As of today, Gilmore has yet to explain the company's decision to pull the rug out from the process. Guild leaders today requested a meeting with Gilmore to discuss ways to move forward.

    With the recent layoffs and other workforce reductions since January, the company has saved about $2.3 million at the expense of Guild members.

    Unit Co-Chair Gayle Grundtner, an advertising employee, said, "Through its actions, the owner and publisher have shown tunnel vision. Guild members throughout the paper stand ready to work hard and come up with imaginative solutions to keep the Pioneer Press alive through these challenging times. But these recent actions lack vision and seek to balance the financial books by gutting the essence of what makes the Pioneer Press great.

    "We're frustrated and disappointed and believe we can do better."

    About byline strikes
    There's an established history of writers and photographers withholding their names as a way to make their voices heard. Unlike other job actions, such as work stoppages, byline strikes have the advantage of sending a message without any sacrifice to quality. Writers and photographers go about their business as usual, except they withhold their names from the final version of the story.

    The practice has long been legally protected, and the Pioneer Press' contract with the Guild ensures that each journalist has control over his or her name. Even though the Guild membership voted overwhelming to take the action, the decision to withhold one's name is a completely voluntary decision by each columnist, reporter or photographer.
  2. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    I certainly understand the employees' anger. But byline strikes seem to me to be a useless exercise these days.
  3. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    The Michael Jackson song, "They don't care about us," would fit in nicely here.
  4. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Put your fucking name on the fucking story or go flip some burgers.
  5. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    I still don't understand byline strikes. I don't know what they're supposed to mean, or accomplish. Is it some sort of solidarity thing? I literally have no idea what it means.
  6. A byline strike seems to be counter-productive. It's basically alienating the readers from the product even more, thereby further worsening the product, thereby lending to a drop in interest and revenue, thereby providing fodder for more layoffs, etc., etc.
  7. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Indeed. If they had balls to put their anger on display, they'd just go on strike and suffer for their beliefs.

    But no, they'll take the company's paycheck yet won't put their name on their stories. Silly.
  8. partain

    partain Member

    The worst part about this is maybe two readers would even notice if it wasn't pointed out to them.
  9. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    I don't get it, either. I don't see how this hurts management. They might bitch, but they're still getting their copy. Doesn't this only negatively impact the reporters and photographers who refuse to byline their work?

    What one of these papers needs is a real, honest-to-God strike, where the reporters, photogs and copy folks just flat do not show up for work.
  10. Bubbler

    Bubbler Active Member

    I think a byline strike is pointless too, but bear in mind that many Guilds have no-strike clauses built into their contracts. Don't know if that's the case in St. Paul, but keep it in mind before you rip.
  11. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    We have one of those contract clauses, too, Bubbler, and one of the reporters is hiding behind said clause. Pisses the shit out of me.
  12. It's a symbolic act, like picketing in front of a company HQ. But I think it's more successful than you're giving credit for it. Management is clearly uncomfortable with it, because it sounds like they've been caught failing to bargain in good faith.

    And if the readers didn't notice it before -- they certainly did after that front page editorial. Personally, I think readers are a lot more savvy anyway. They notice bylines, especially if they don't like a story.
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