SPJ convention and 'Profits over People' dispute

Dateline: Sat 29 Aug 2009

This is from The Working Press, the on-line publication of the Society of Professional Journalists. Thanks to Star Geezer for point it our way:


"8/29/2009 7:31:14 AM
Dispute comes to convention

By Emory Williamson / Photos by Breanna Gaddie

Against SPJ officials’ wishes, The Indianapolis Star guild President Tom Spalding came with multicolored leaflets in hand to give a message to media giant and convention sponsor Gannett Co.

“Gannett: Profits over People” read a yellow leaflet. “110% Effort, 90% Pay” read a blue leaflet.

Spalding, along with several members from the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, came to the SPJ convention Friday to distribute materials criticizing Gannett over a recent agreement between the guild and Gannett-owned newspaper The Indianapolis Star.

The guild voted Tuesday to ratify a two-year contract that includes a 10 percent pay cut and no wage increases for two years.

Spalding said guild members agreed to the contract with “guns to our heads.”

“This is a great vehicle and forum to relay a simple message,” Spalding said. “The message to Gannett is that we made a $2 million sacrifice.”

Gannett Vice President of Talent Management Virgil Smith was part of a panel on "Bulletproof Careers" with Ernest Sotomayor, assistant dean of career services Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Spalding, a business reporter for the Star, targeted a morning session called “A Bulletproof Career,” which featured Virgil Smith, vice president of talent management for Gannett. Guild members distributed leaflets, buttons, pens and lanyards to convention attendees and to Smith.

SPJ President Dave Aeikens said he preferred that the guild not distribute leaflets, but added that they were not reprimanded nor were guild materials removed from the site.

“We are very empathetic and sympathetic to the journalists at The Indianapolis Star and very supportive of their efforts, but we don’t want the perception that we’re taking sides in labor issues,” Aeikens said.

Aeikens, a reporter for Gannett affiliate Times Media in St. Cloud, Minn., said his newspaper has endured layoffs and he has had 10 furlough days this year.

Tom Spalding, president of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, speaks to Smith during the session.

“It’s not a great situation,” he said. “I’m sure the company would prefer there not be layoffs, but that’s the way things are.”

Spalding said he asked to protest at the SPJ convention and was initially granted permission by SPJ interim co-executive director Chris Vachon. But Vachon said she retracted after consultation with fellow SPJ leaders. She said SPJ wanted to “pass on this” because it doesn’t want to get involved in “labor-type” issues.

Spalding privately discussed the matter with Smith and said the Gannett executive was sympathetic with his hope to spare the Star from further cuts, given the guild’s sacrifice.

“I hope he will take that up the chain,” Spalding said, adding that his group’s convention attendance was a “mission accomplished.”

In an interview after his panel discussion, Smith said he wasn’t familiar with the specific issues involving the contract negotiations and declined to comment.

In a letter Wednesday to Star Publisher Michael G. Kane, Spalding wrote that the pay cut at the Star was among the highest permanent wage cuts of any newspaper in the country.

“Long-term, we expect the company to be aware of this sacrifice when the economy improves,” Spalding wrote. “Short-term, we expect the company to spare this unit should Gannett need to continue to cut costs.”

The contract would also allow the publisher to assign journalists to unfamiliar assignments, such as advertorials – stories published with the intention of advertising a product.

Kane declined to comment on guild activities at the SPJ convention or what specific changes would be implemented at the paper based on the new contract.

“It's a free country,” Kane said. “I feel I have a good relationship with guild leadership and our journalists. Anything I have to say I'll say to them directly.”

James Keough, vice president of human resources at the Star, also declined to comment. Keough was involved in the labor negotiations between the guild and the local newspaper.

“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 just cut our salaries to improve a stock price was demoralizing.”"


marion garmel [unverified] said:

Come on! When you've got a vice president for talent management, you're not talking about newspapers anymore. As soon as editors became supervisors and writers became "talent," you knew the writing was on the wall. This is not about journalism anymore, Toto. it's about management. And the bigger budgets win.

2009-08-29 14:37:18

news junkie [Member] said:

The wording 'unfamiliar assignments' seems an odd choice, considering advertorial copy was never part of a journalist's job at the Star. Note the word journalist.

The contract would also allow the publisher to assign journalists to unfamiliar assignments, such as advertorials – stories published with the intention of advertising a product.

2009-08-29 17:59:17

StarStruck [unverified] said:

No more "journalists," only "writers." Big difference.

2009-08-29 19:33:10

ConcernedStaffer [Member] said:

Kane is full of sh!t. He doesn't have a relationship with "his" journalists. When asked about anything, he defers to comment on anything internally as well when cornered. And as for Keough, I don't even know where to start. There is a reason his nickname is puppet.

I commend Mr. Spalding for doing what he does, but I don't think it helps matters.

2009-08-29 23:20:26

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Concerned Staffer, why in the world do Spalding's efforts "not help matters" ? I'm curious--seriously.

As a sidelight--any time any boss uses the personal pronoun to cover employees (s)he oversees (i.e. "my journalists") I've learned, you're in big trouble. Unless the personal pronoun is followed by a very friendly word, like friend or associate.

Side note: isn't Mr. Satomayor related to our newest Madame Justice?

Side Note 2: Just finished the Sunday Star. It took 18 minutes. Would've been less but I read three "obitadvertorials." Complete with unedited grammar errors.

2009-08-30 06:44:28

Dave Lindquist [unverified] said:

TTT: If you're going to dismiss the edition of The Star anchored by Konrad Marshall's "A War Within" report, maybe we should pack it in.

2009-08-30 14:56:36

ruthholl [Member] said:

"A War Within" deserves its own post; it is a hell of a read. Marshall has taken us inside a young soldier's head, and it's a harrowing, scary place to be, with more to come. From today's teasers, it sounds like the series is going to take the story right to the VA's doorstep.
I also think former Star staffer Sally Nancrede's piece on an accessible house built in an Evansville orchard, that ran yesterday, was terrific, and it shows what a reporter can do when he/she is given a beat and allowed to run with it (a luxury not much allotted in today's pared-back newsroom). Sally writes for other publications now, but there is no question that by running her story in the Star, she got the best exposure.
Also, twice on Sundays, Matt Tully has peeled back the skin on the IPS onion and exposed the difficulties faced by both students and educators.
He's taken it out of the realm of anecdote and right into the classrooms (and outside, as today's story indicates).
There is excellent work being done at the Star. The problem has never been the writers. As Tom Spalding says, journalism is "a love of our life," and the people who have remained at the paper undoubtedly are dedicated and loyal to the craft.
The issue, as Concerned Staffer indicated, is the phony management that pretends to put out a paper when all it is doing is counting the money (and stepping on reporters).
When I was still there, a wise young reporter said she could hack it because she understood "I am just a cog in the Gannett machine." That is an unfortunate way to feel about your employers, but sad to say, it is reality-based and probably helps people survive the day.
More on "A War Within" later...

2009-08-30 16:02:03

mgarmel [Member] said:

I understand Konrad Marshall's last day at the Star was Friday (Aug. 28). Another big loss.

2009-08-30 20:45:16

ConcernedStaffer [Member] said:

TTT - What I mean is that I believe his (Tom Spalding) heart is in the right place, but it's fighting the inevitable. Gannett can and will do whatever it chooses and they have proved that time and time again.

And yes, Konrad's last day was Friday.

2009-08-30 22:52:47

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Konrad's story was good. Overdue, actually.

Regular posters here know I am no Tully fan. But it's amazing what happens when he gets off his butt and develops a story, instead of sitting at his desk and writing no=columns.

Still, the whole Sunday paper took less than 20 minutes. The paper used to be filled with good stories.

2009-08-31 05:11:52

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Talent management" says everything about Gannett's corporate philosophy.

"Talent" is someone hired for a gig. Not a profession or job, a gig, which is temporary by nature and need.

And Gannett is all about temporary.

The idea that an executive in a newspaper factory would hold the title of "talent manager" is repugnant in the extreme. (Part of any talent manager's responsibility is to conduct cattle calls, searches for talent to fill a specific gig-- a photo shoot or play date or role-- and could any term be more apt than "cattle call" for any gigs offered by Gannett?)

2009-08-31 07:48:01

ruthholl [Member] said:

Several readers have sent along David Carr's media analysis/criticism of what Gannett is doing in Westchester, N.Y. (which Gannettoid has been all over).
Will post it shortly.
The plan: continue to expose the beast, and maybe, somewhere, someday, the greed will bring it to its knees in a bloody heap.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue chanting, "the whole world is watching"

2009-08-31 10:53:06

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

I got a rocket launcher for my birthday. Will someone kindly give me directions to Gannett HQ? Thanks.

2009-09-02 14:45:05

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