Vol XIl, Issue 35 TNG/CWA Local 31041 July 3, 2001

EXODUS, PART II (v. 2.0)
New York Times reporter cites poor morale
at Providence Journal; 3 more staffers to go;
American Journalism Review has story
In an unusual move, New York Times reporter Chris Chivers has admonished Belo Chairman Robert W. Decherd for "downplaying" his departure and those of other Providence Journal staffers.
"(The Journal) risks becoming a company around which young journalists would not consider building a life."
-- from Chris Chivers' letter to Belo chief Robert Decherd

Chivers wrote Decherd that morale has eroded as the Guild-company contract dispute has worsened.

"Like many of the paper's readers and alumni, I have come to fear that the current exodus, as it has been called, undermines the spirit of a remarkable place," Chivers wrote.

The departures of sales, editorial and other staffers from the newspaper in the past two years has become a controversial issue this year.

Guild seeks tougher
building security

The Guild will ask for another meeting to continue discussions about security in the Journal Building following the company's withdrawal of guards in the lobby.

The issue was discussed June 21 by union and management negotiators. But last week, the company wrote that it believes its security program is "reasonable."

Richard A. Perras, a company lawyer, said "roving" guards, a "red phone" at the lobby information desk linked to security, and locked doors from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. give adequate protection.

But meeting yesterday, the Guild executive board disagreed, saying that dangerous individuals can get into the building too easily.

Not only can someone walk into the building unchecked on weekdays, strangers can slip into the building when an employee opens a locked door, union officials said.

The company also rejected the union's proposal to raise pay this year for summer interns. The Guild said it would consider the company's proposal for a hike next year as part of a settlement of a new overall contract

The company turned aside a Guild plan to allow displaced non-union workers to fill in temporarily in Guild bargaining unit jobs.

There have been these other developments in the issue:

* Three more news staffers have left The Journal or given notice, bring the total of those leaving to 57.

They are: Rachel Ritchie, the photographer who this year was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Mary Beth Meehan, the photographer who won this year's in-house excellence award in the visuals department; and Raghuram Vadarevu, a reporter for projo.com, a journal staffer and a former two-year intern.

* The American Journalism Review wrote about the news exodus in its current issue. (The Guild is seeking permission to put the AJR article, which is not on the magazine's website, on www.riguild.org.) An article headlined "PROJO DEPARTURES: You Say Hemorrhage, I Say Attrition," quotes seven former and current staffers about the situation, along with a company executive, its labor lawyer and a Guild official.

June 17
ProJo exodus
v. 1.1

The article notes that people have left for a variety of reasons, and that the union is alarmed by the number of departures, while managers are sanguine. "Low morale does seem to be a serious problem," wrote AJR's associate editor Kathryn S. Wenner.

As to the new departures, Rachel Ritchie, whose haunting and penetrating photographs have appeared in the paper since 1979, said she wanted a chance to work in a war zone. She has moved to the West Bank.

Ritchie was the first woman photographer hired by The Journal full-time, breaking a barrier in what had been the last steadfastly all-male department in the newspaper.

But her entry into the paper did not come without a fight: she had to take legal action to finally get the job.

Ritchie was a runner-up in this year's Pulitzer contest for photos she took of a gunman after a shooting at a neighborhood festival in Providence.

Mary Beth Meehan left saying that she and her husband wanted to live in Ireland.

Raghuram Vadarevu said he wants to go back to journalism school in an effort to become a foreign correspondent.

Chivers wrote to Decherd after hearing that the chairman of the company which owns The Journal was quoted at the May stockholders meeting as saying people were leaving the Providence paper to take more prestigious jobs and that the outflow was normal.

That view ignores the labor troubles and other morale problems that have played a role in an exodus that troubles readers and former journalists, Chivers said.

Chivers' letter is reprinted below.

June 24, 2001

Robert W. Decherd
Chairman, Belo Corp.
Dallas, Texas

Dear Mr. Decherd:

I am a former staff writer at The Providence Journal, having left Rhode Island in 1999.

It has come to my attention that you have downplayed the recent resignations of many of The Providence Journal's journalists, suggesting that many of us left merely for jobs at more prominent papers, that the rate of turnover in Providence is normal and that poor relations between the Providence Newspaper Guild and the Belo Corporation have not been a factor in hastening journalists for the door. It is for this reason that I write you now.

Let me say that my experience in Providence was overwhelmingly a good one. In the four years or so I worked there I received exciting assignments and excellent editing. I felt I was a part of a rich, lively newspaper that occupied a central place in Rhode Island's culture.

And yet, for all my good shifts and many satisfactions, I could not help but notice that The Journal was prone to assuming a counterproductive attitude toward its staff. Some signs were unmistakable. There were unnecessary fights over employee expenses, parking and automobile allowances. Other signs were less obvious but insidious, including a dependence on irregular employees and interns who were neither coached nor rewarded on a scale commensurate with their contributions. Together these signs suggested to me that an element of the company's management had come to think that the paper's journalists - the people whose hard work and trusted sources lent The Journal its greatest asset, its credibility - could be taken for granted.

To those of us who worked the contentious beats, logging tens of extra hours each week for which we usually were not compensated, and paying down debt and planning or raising families on humble salaries, this posture was deeply disappointing.

Against this backdrop Belo chose to be intractable in contract negotiations. Perhaps, as you have said, the rate of attrition during the years of negotiations is not significantly different from that of other periods. Having not seen the personnel data, I know better than to pretend to know. But I also know better than to reject outright the strong indications of poor morale that followed the company's stance in negotiations. There can be little doubt, all these months and farewells later, that the recent climate has accelerated the resignations of many of the newsroom's journalists, and warned off potential applicants as well.

I can speak to my own experience, which I believe is typical of a class. I chose to apply to a more prominent newspaper not just because I sought other opportunities, but also because I took the measure of The Providence Journal and saw worrisome signs of short-sightedness. And like many of the paper's readers and alumni, I have come to fear that the current exodus, as it has been called, undermines the spirit of a remarkable place.

I remain grateful to The Providence Journal and its news editors, many of whom nurtured my career and became my friends. I am proud to have worked there. These thoughts only intensify my sadness that, under Belo's current stance, Rhode Island's newspaper of record risks becoming a company around which young journalists would not consider building a life.

I hope that this letter can inform your understanding of the Providence labor dispute in a constructive way, and that Belo can restore the high spirits and sense of mutual respect that Rhode Island's most important news outlet deserves.

C. J. Chivers

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TNG/CWA Local 31041
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