INDIVIDUAL BYLINE STRIKES
CONTINUE AT THE JOURNAL
The last time Tony DePaul's name appeared in The Providence Journal was July 11, 2000.
It was on an obituary for a Warwick city official, which makes it somewhat ironic, because DePaul's byline had expired, too.
DePaul had begun a personal byline strike six months earlier, protesting the treatment of the Guild by the company, which had not - and still hasn't - reached agreement to replace the contract that expired February 2000.
However, for this one article, DePaul made an exception. He knew the family of the late public works director Charles "Ted" Sheahan would be saving the article, and he didn't want it to seem impersonal.
But the next day, his name vanished again and it has stayed that way. His action has been joined by some of his colleagues in the West Bay news bureau and by other journalists.
CURRENTLY, 11 STAFFERS are participating, with about half joining in the past several weeks.
The participants are calling their action a "Wildcat Byline Strike" to distinguish it from the three short-duration general byline strikes called officially by the Guild.
As negotiations have dragged on, the wildcat action has steadily been picking up participants, as more people express exasperation with the company's anti-union stance.
The wildcat actions have been most noticeable in bureaus, when large portions of their staffs withhold names, as was the case last year in West Bay.
Currently, three South County reporters are keeping their names off stories, meaning that on some days, most South County edition pages lack bylines, especially as the state staff shrinks.
One of the latest to participate is Steve Szydlowski, a photographer, who said Saturday that he will ask that his credit line be omitted from his work.
Typical of the reasons for participating was this given by photographer Kathy Borchers when she joined Aug. 10:
"I would like the company to bargain in good faith and offer us a fair contract, and I'd like our readers to know this is happening, even if it takes this word-of-mouth 'where's your byline' method. This has dragged on too long."
The first three general byline strikes, including the last one, a week-long action June 5-11, 2000, appeared to attract outside attention, getting print and broadcast coverage.
In addition, some managers reacted angrily, including a top editor who tried (unsuccessfully) to browbeat reporters into changing their decisions to keep their names off important stories.
MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about the wildcat tactic has taken place on the Guild's "listserv," an e-mail discussion forum. The Leader is writing about it so that all members will know what has been going on.
Like the previous general byline strikes, the wildcat byline action has been the subject of fierce debate within the union.
Supporters such as Borchers and DePaul argue that it's an effective way to show management and readers about how strongly members of the union feel about the drawn-out contract talks, which began Oct. 28, 1999.
They say it's also a good way for union members to make individual statements and to stand their ground on a continuing basis.
Some critics question whether byline strikes have an impact. And other say a wildcat strike observed only by some members shows disunity.
DePaul, after 20 months, believes that "a byline strike is useful because the company obviously is trying to make everything appear normal at a time when it's anything but.''
DePaul says that Warwick officials spotted his brief return.
Many "at City Hall noticed that my byline was back in the paper," DePaul said, "and when it disappeared again the next day, they correctly guessed that the one-day appearance had been a tribute to Ted."
HERE ARE SOME of the opinions expressed on the listserv:
Harriet Rantoul-Hazard, a display advertising sales representative: "Is this byline strike helping us negotiate a better contract? From a non-editorial perspective, I don't see what this action will accomplish, and appears to be misdirected energy. What gives you the impression that 'they' will be affected by some of you withholding your byline? Let's work on resolving issues, instead of creating distractions, please."
Paul Davis, a reporter in the South County bureau, and a member of the union's executive board: "The South County strike is creating a stir. All of a sudden, city officials in three major circulation areas are asking:' What's going on? How come I never see your name in the paper?' On many days, our entire section is blank. Every day, we explain to another official why we have removed our names."
Richard Salit, a reporter in the Northwest bureau: "I applaud the courage, determination and sacrifice of the wildcat byline strikers (but) when but a paltry few join a wildcat byline strike, it can contribute to the impression some people have that just a small number of 'rebels' are behind the labor dissent That's why I think it's time for the union executive board to renew a byline strike initiative. I'd like to see strike dates chosen frequently and strategically How about strikes once a week or so, and certainly on the occasional Sunday paper, which has the highest circulation and is held in the highest regard by management?"
Karen Lee Ziner, a reporter in Providence: "Management uses our names to sell the paper. The bylines take on currency, particularly over time. That's why they have Sunday promos, with names on them! That's why they feature columnists, with names and little thumbnail pictures. It's all about marketing. Personally, I feel like withholding my byline is a sacrifice that comes at great cost. I take pride in my work. It's nice to have my name on it. And now I feel invisible. But I do believe that a byline strike is a useful and powerful tool in this situation."
Brian C. Jones, a Providence general assignment reporter and executive board member, wrote this article. He joined the wildcat boycott last week.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495