SPJ not all warm and fuzzy towards Guild protest

Dateline: Fri 28 Aug 2009

Thanks to reader Jim Burns who sent this article from today's Editor and Publsher. It shows the Indy Guild is waging a PR campaign re: its lousy contract and sacrifices, but other journalists apparently don't seem especially interested in feeling their pain. The other journalists, in this instance, are members of the Society of Professinal Journalists, in Indy for a convention.

I feel torn. On one hand, I want the Guild to get the word out about deplorable conditions at the Star. On the other hand, as an irate friend pointed out a bit ago, the Guild did approve the contract. The fight is now over and finished, for all practical purposes, over. Time to get to work and put out a paper.

So what do you think? Is this protest a good idea, or is it too little/too late -- and already backfiring?

"Indy News Guild Protest Not Welcomed at SPJ Convention

By Joe Strupp

Published: August 28, 2009 11:45 AM ET
NEW YORK Just days after approving a new two-year contract with The Indianapolis Star -- which includes a 10% salary cut and two-year wage freeze -- the Indianapolis News Guild wanted to protest the pay cut at today's Society of Professional Journalists convention.

But SPJ wanted no part of it.

After Guild leaders asked for the right to pass out fliers protesting parent company Gannett's pay cut deal at today's SPJ sessions in Indianapolis, the SPJ leadership declined.

"We did not want to create the perception that we are taking sides," said SPJ President David Aeikens. "We sympathize and empathize. A lot of us have been where the Indianapolis people are. But we are trying not to get too involved."

After rejecting a previous contract offer in June that included a 12% pay cut, the Indianapolis Guild unit approved the more recent proposal on Monday. In a memo to members, Guild President Tom Spalding urged them to attend today's SPJ events and pass out fliers that declare: "GANNETT: PROFITS OVER PEOPLE," and "110% EFFORT, 90% PAY."

In an e-mail to Interim SPJ Co-Executive Director Chris Vachon on Thursday, Spalding noted the guild wanted to use the SPJ event to gain attention because it is expected to have some 600 journalists from around the country, as well as an appearance by Virgil Smith, vice president/talent management, for Gannett.

"Chris, this is no longer a labor issue. The contract was voted in on Tuesday, we've accepted it, and it will be signed this coming Monday.
However, we are trying to show Gannett that it might have been able to force this bad contract on us, with its 10% pay cut, but all our members are angry about it -- including the journalists who are appearing as speakers at your convention this weekend on behalf of the Indianapolis Star," Spalding's e-mail to Vachon stated, in part.

"We are jazzed up about journalism too and want to let everyone know in a positive way the sacrifice made by Guild members. The flyers convey our spirit and resolve -- one of the flyers, in fact, lists our
numerous winners of coveted journalism prizes -- including SPJ's! --
and there's no better audience than the 600 national and international
journalists in town this weekend for your convention to get our points

Vachon was unavailable for comment. But Aeikens said Friday that SPJ would not seek to stop any guild members from distributing fliers during the convention, which is being held at The Westin in downtown Indianapolis.

"We don't want to raise a fuss," he said. "He can stop there and hand out fliers if he wants. I don't know that we have gotten requests like this before. We just don't want to give the perception we are taking sides."


Sylvia Halladay [unverified] said:

The fight isn't over. That's the whole point. With the new contract, the guild now has a two-year window to get better organized and try for something better next time, which is way better than being at impasse and trying to get a new contract from that. It doesn't work real well only to organize during a contract bargaining year.

2009-08-28 16:58:54

hendy [unverified] said:

A wise man once cited that a bully pulpit is only useful so long as you can be a bully. After that, you're no longer a bully and the pulpit is merely a soapbox.

2009-08-28 17:18:25

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

I didn't see any anti-Gannett handouts at the SPJ convention downtown this afternoon.

But, the gossip is everyone's running scared and the best-attended sessions are those on how to freelance, and how to get an academic job, and how to find a new job...rather than doing one's current (tenuous) job.

The only bright spot seems to be community journalism -- that is, owning the only paper in a sparsely populated small town or rural county.

The SPJ convention is, BTW, the best-attended in years with 620 registered (some 100 more than last year's convention). Weird times!

2009-08-28 17:41:20

ruthholl [Member] said:

A friend told me today to "Give it up...move on...stop thinking about the Star." But it seems to be in the blood.
I like seeing the Guild swing its weight around, futile tho it may be. Sucker for lost causes?
Yes, weird times indeed...maybe all the nervous energy will produce a breakthrough of sorts.
As for community journalism: nowhere to go but up, for most of those papers. IN Greencastle, at one point, some of the staff thought of themselves as just having jobs rather than doing journalism. Move over people; some real journalists would like to take your place...
(No, not me...but they are out there.)

2009-08-28 18:16:27

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Smalltown journalism has always been gritty and precious. Varied, colorful, exhausting.

As for the SPJ folks, I'm not a Guild member, but as I read the post, if the Guild members will permit a supporter to speak for them:

SPJ, hang your pathetic heads for not showing solidarity or for turning a deaf ear. Shame on you. Indifference is not a virtue when your kin are bleeding. It's just obnoxious.

2009-08-28 19:30:51

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

Re community journalism:
the word was, your readers keep you honest (that is, reporting honestly) because you see 'em on the street every day...and they have no qualms about marching into your office and yelling at you if there's something they don't like!

2009-08-28 21:20:23

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"Re community journalism:"
One of the most entertaining aspects of working at small-town newspapers for many years for me was this: all of the people who were running for president who dropped in for an interview.

I'm not talking about actual nationally prominent candidates here - but the folks who knew they didn't have a snowball's chance in hades of getting elected dogcatcher in their own communities - and who still thought it worthwhile to run for president.

They'd tell me that they came to smalltown papers because none of the big city newspapers would let them past security.

We wrote about them because not a lot of exciting things happen in small towns and we needed local copy. I still have some of their campaign buttons.

The SPJ thing: no surprise to me. I agree with the "pathetic heads" remark.

2009-08-28 23:01:39

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Whitebeard, we should meet up, and have lunchy sometime with Ruthie.

It'd take three hours to share the stories, but it'd be worth it.

Smalltown journalism is amazing.


2009-08-29 10:12:45

ruthholl [Member] said:

Eric Bernsee was the editor of the Greencastle Banner-Graphic for at least part of the time we lived in Putnam. He always had hilarious stories, plus the observation (after he left the paper) that he could not go to the grocery without being button-holed by some citizen, irate about some town issue and wanting to discuss it for 45 minutes at Kroger.
Anyhow, his paper once ran a photo of a horse standing in a pond in Putnam County. The horse had a crude, hand-lettered
sign around his neck: "I am swimmin'"
The explanation (provided by editor Bernsee in a small story) was that the horse loved to loll around in the pond, and all these rural folks driving past would call 911 and (seriously) report to the sheriff that they were afraid a horse was drowning.
So the family decided to place the sign around the horse's neck -- one can only hope it was lettered by a child.
And Eric had another Page 1 blockbuster photo, with a small story to go with it...
I would love to have lunch. Mon-Wed-Fri are best for me at this stage.
Keep those stories coming...

2009-08-29 10:53:37

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Dear Ruth and TTT,

Thank you so much for the great idea of a get-together. I'm sure we would have a blast. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to reluctantly put my acceptance "on hold" for awhile due to health problems (diabetic neuropathy, auto immune problems, ad infinitum) I have been dealing with that have rendered me nearly immobile and unable to drive a car. I don't live in Indy proper so cab or bus is not an option for me. My "driver" (my wife of 30-plus years) will have two weeks off during the Christmas season so maybe I (we) could join up with you then?

In the meantime, here's another little story from my smalltown newspaper days.....

A major winter ice storm hit the little town where I was working on a small daily paper. The power was out for nearly a week. One of the reporters lived in an apartment above the newspaper office and I lived about 50 yards away in a seedy hotel.

I heard a knock on my door and there was the reporter, Doug. '"Hey, let's see if we can put a paper out!" We were just young, naive kids and didn't realize that we couldn't put a paper out ourselves (and who would deliver it?). But for three days after the lights went out, Doug and I kept working, writing our stories by candlelight. We kept food and drink on the ledges of our apartments to keep it cold. I can't remember if we even had phone service, but we did a lot of our reporting by hoofing it (sliding around, actually) to public offices that managed to stay open around town.

After the power came back on, the paper published a couple of special editions that included the articles we had written when the little town was black and not a car on the streets.

I still have this memory "frozen in time" of slip-sliding into that little newspaper office front door one night at 2 a.m. to find Doug sitting at his desk, pounding the keys of an old manual typewriter, the soft yellow glow of lit candles illuminating his work and casting soft shadows in the little newsroom.

2009-08-29 12:24:44

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

The Working Press (the daily print newspaper at the SPJ convention) has a front-page-above-the-fold story about the guild and the society titled "Dispute comes to convention".

Well reported by Emory Williamson, it also includes a pix of Tom Spalding as he speaks to Gannett Vice-President of Talent Management Virgil Smith during a panel discussion of "Bulletproof Careers
". It notes that Spalding met privately with Smith as well.

The coverage concluded with this:
"'We're more than just a number,' Spalding said in an interview. 'Journalism isn't just a job -- it's a love of our life. For them to cut our salaries to improve a stock price was demoralizing.'"

2009-08-29 12:56:01

ruthholl [Member] said:

Good for Tom. He's working it. Thank you so much for letting us know this. I will look at The Working Press asap.

2009-08-29 13:40:53

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