Vol XI, No. 37TNG/CWA Local 31041April 17, 2000


In advance of the membership vote on a proposed work-to-rule program by the Guild, the union will hold a series of luncheon meetings this week and next to discuss the effort.

Guild leaders will brief members on details of the work-to-rule proposal. In turn, members are encouraged to offer their suggestions and insights .into the plan.

The vote itself will be held April 26.

The luncheons - at the Guild office, 270 Westminster St. - will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on each of the following days:

  • Wednesday, April 19
  • Thursday, April 20
  • Friday, April 21
  • Monday, April 24
Those unable to attend, but wish to talk with union officials about the proposed program should call Tim Schick, Guild administrator, at 421-9466.

A Reporter's Guide For Work-to-Rule

How does a reporter work to rule?

By carefully observing contractual and professional standards - and by withholding any extra effort or unpaid work time.

The object is to have the newspaper feel the value of a reporter's role, by experiencing the loss of some of his or her contribution - the part that's discretionary.

This also could an opportunity to reform some of the ills of the recent past: to restore quality reporting and writing that's been lost in the down-sized, understaffed era, and to resurrect some of the disciplines that made the Journal a `writers' paper.'

It can work several ways:

Take the time that's really needed to complete an assignment.

One byproduct of this effort could be to restore integrity to a process that's been shortchanged by the paper has its tried to scrimp on staffing. Working carefully is going to improve the quality and accuracy of our work.

  • Instead of calling one or two sources, contact three or five or eight.

  • Instead of doing an interview by phone, do the interview in person.

  • Make sure you have enough supporting material. Do you need to go the library, get on the Internet, get more faxed material, have something Fed-Exed?

  • Do you have original documents, or just a press release? A trip to the courthouse or other records center may be required. (Remember to put in for a full expense account if there are copying fees, even if it's only 20-cents).

  • Have you viewed the scene of the crime, the dispute, or talked to people who have? A story is often enhanced by understanding the territory you're writing about.

Nowadays, a lot of work at The Providence Journal is rushed - improperly - as staff shrinks. Let's give ourselves and our readers the satisfaction of doing the work right. Take the time that is needed to do a thorough, responsible job.

In a sense, this is not just work-to-rule: it's reforming a process that's soured because of understaffing, downsizing, and failure to fill vacancies to meet the latest ``emergency'' budget reduction.

Do the minimum required.

There's a lot of extra effort that goes into our work. A story comes up at the last minute, and somebody does three handstands, back flips, three half-twists and a triple somersault to get it done on time, within budget.

  • Instead to rushing to make up for a staffing or managerial oversight, how about walking from Point A to Point B? No running in the Journal Building.

  • By all means, carry out the assignment. Make the call. Do the interview. Write the story. But for heaven sakes: don't rush. Haste makes waste.

Don't work for free.

  • The workday is 7.5 hours, exclusive of lunch or dinner breaks. Don't come in an hour early. Don't stay a minute after quitting time unless you have arranged to go into an overtime situation.

  • Which is not to say that overtime is bad. In fact, overtime is good. The more overtime we collect, the more economic pressure is placed on the company. Remember, Guild bargaining unit members have not had a raise since January 1999.

It's also important here to remember that this clock-watching cuts both ways. The company is full of managers who delight in bookkeeping, not journalism, and it's likely that personal flexibility is going to suffer as the company dives enthusiastically into a retaliatory time-clock mode. Plan for it.

We are not talking about getting up and leaving a story half-written on our computer screens. We want the company to feel the strain - but we do not want to short-change the reader.

Restore The Journal's reputation as a writer's paper.

Good writing, like expert carpentry, gourmet cooking and fine quilting takes time. It can't be rushed. Many people came to the Providence Journal specifically because of the culture of writing excellence. It's time to renew that.

  • Is your first lead the best you can do? Does your story suffer from organizational problems?

  • Was your original approach the one that makes sense? As the story developed, did it change course, now requiring an anecdotal opening rather than a straight lead?

  • Should you be offering your editor a choice of two approaches?

  • The art of writing, at least in some people's minds, is the art of rewriting. Rewriting takes time. But it usually improves the story.

Think twice about volunteering.

There are a number of instances in which the company asks for extra participation. For example, the company months ago began an examination into journalistic ethics (quite a laugh, in hindsight).

  • If attendance is discretionary, don't go.

  • If attendance is mandatory, do go but don't participate more than you have to.

  • Don't talk unless called on.

  • If called on, don't say anything that makes much sense (this will not be a strain for most of us, but the company may not realize this).

Don't do the work of two people.

This is especially important in the downsized era. Throughout the paper, after the staffing-cuts of a few years ago, the technological changes in which we do more work after composing room and other craft-workers have been replaced by machines, the failure to hire enough irregular extras and vacation replacements, the workload has increased.

So an editor will ask, in good faith, whether a reporter can squeeze in an extra story, doing three a day, instead of two.

The answer up to now has always been: YES.

  • The new answer: Maybe YES. But it could be impossible to do that work within the 7.5-hour workday window. The extra story could become an overtime add-on.

  • The new answer: Maybe NO, because I can't work overtime because I have family obligations, personal commitments. It's important here to be truthful - the overtime turndown has to be based on real-world situations. We are reporters, and we don't lie.

  • Read the paper.

    It's company policy - and a good one - that every reporter is responsible for knowing what is in the paper. That doesn't mean reading the paper at home.


The atmosphere in the newsroom has been chilled this month, and it's not a Canadian wind that's responsible.

For the first time in the Journal's modern history, news managers have used union activity against a reporter in determining a beat assignment.

This happened March 23, when Brian Jones, a financial writer who covered the medical economics beat, was moved off that assignment after one of his editors questioned his role as a spokesman for the Providence Newspaper Guild.

Jones is chairman of the Guild's Unit Council, a former union officer and longtime Journal employee. For years he has been recognized as expert on the institutional history of the paper and Rhode Island journalism. Whether in state publications or national dailies like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal report on the Journal, Jones is invariably quoted.

It was never a problem until this year.

On March 23, Jones was called into a meeting with his editors. Deputy Managing Editor Peter Phipps said he was concerned that Jones' role as a spokesman for the Guild - he has been quoted in the Providence Phoenix and the Wall Street Journal - in the current contract negotiations could create a perception problem, since hospital, nursing home and other unions factor into health economic issues.

Phipps said the worry was his idea, but he had brought it up with Executive Editor Joel Rawson and Metro Managing Editor Tom Heslin.

The editors cited no complaints from readers, hospitals or unions. Nor did they give an example where Jones' reporting seemed compromised.

In a memo to Phipps and Financial Editor John Kostrzewa, Jones said he thought it was possible someone might perceive him to have a bias in his coverage, but he denied that such a bias existed.

"The Journal does not raise this issue in a vacuum," Jones added. "I'm a high-profile member of a labor union and just bringing up the subject of whether my union activity should have an impact on my employment raises questions of motive - whether the company is raising legitimate ethical issues or whether this discussion is a cover for classic punishment for union activity."

Jones proposed that he be allowed either to continue his beat unhampered, or to be given one of three alternatives beats of his choice. He has been told his new assignment will be one of those alternatives: to write analysis and background stories on controversial issues. He is being transferred from the financial to the main newsroom staff.

Guild Administrator Timothy Schick said Jones may have erred in not requesting union representation at the meeting with Phipps and Kostrzewa; and in responding to them before getting any advice.

In the future, if management tries to use union activity as a reason for transfer or reassignment, Schick said the employee should defer any comment until he or she has discussed it with a union representative. Such company actions are generally illegal and often can be contested.

-- John Hill

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495