|Vol XIl, Issue 35
||TNG/CWA Local 31041
||July 3, 2001
New York Times reporter cites poor morale
at Providence Journal; 3 more staffers to go;
American Journalism Review has story
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.
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,"
The departures of
sales, editorial and other staffers from the newspaper in the past two
years has become a controversial issue this year.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
said he wants to go back to journalism school in an effort to become a
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
Robert W. Decherd
Chairman, Belo Corp.
Dear Mr. Decherd:
I am a former
staff writer at The Providence Journal, having left Rhode Island
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.
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
Copyright © 2000 The Providence
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
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