Vol XIl, Issue 42 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Sept. 17, 2001


The big deal
about bylines

Why is a byline important?

To reporters, photographers and artists, their signature is one of the most important aspects of their work.

A byline is a reward more important than money to some journalists, because it means that their work is recognized publicly.

A byline or credit line is a trademark. It means that the journalist stands behind her or his work. It's also an important tool of the trade: Readers will give reporters tips because they've read their stories.

And to faithful readers of the paper, bylines not only personalize the newspaper, they provide a way of following the work of men and women they respect and trust.

The Guild's contract with The Journal gives individuals the right to withhold their names. This can happen when a reporter is asked to produce a story with which he or she disagrees or objects to; or because the paper has an objectionable policy.

That's why a byline strike is an important tactic.

Although it costs The Providence Journal and Belo Corp. nothing financially, a byline strike profoundly changes the look of the paper, signaling that something has gone terribly wrong.

Providence Newspaper Guild members produced a historic series of papers last week, while maintaining a one-week byline strike that had begun the day before the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

The Providence Journal editions published were among the most dramatic and memorable in recent memory, filled with locally-produced stories and photos, as well as comprehensive national reports.

The accomplishment was all the more profound because it occurred during a week-long byline strike that had been scheduled long in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks of hijacked airliners.

"This was a big sacrifice to make, especially during a week with such incredibly big news, and as a member of this Guild, I am grateful from the

bottom of my heart to all who showed such tremendous solidarity in the face of something so big," said Linda Cox, a copy editor in the West Bay news bureau.

"These people set aside a piece of personal satisfaction and gain for the good of the whole, when they might have been tempted to think only of themselves," Cox wrote on the Guild's Listserv.

Over the past two years, the union has called four byline strikes as a means of protesting the company's refusal to negotiate a fair contract and of its illegal tactics, which have resulted in 36 charges of unfair labor practices by the federal government, with more expected.

As a result, most local stories, photos and other materials for the newspapers from Sept. 10 through 16, did not carry the names of the writers, photographers and artists who produced them.

One member of the Guild's Unit Council commented that this gave the newspapers a more somber and profound look than they otherwise would have.

Another Guild member said that the lack of bylines underscored the professionalism of the staff and its commitment: that it could deliver critical news without worrying about the egos of the men and women producing the material.

As the national crisis unfolded, there was considerable discussion about whether the union should continue the byline action.

For several hours following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, members of the Executive Board discussed by phone whether to sustain the program, and they decided that it should go forward.

The following day, board members polled individual journalists, departments and bureaus, to gauge the opinions of the men and women directly involved, and they found strong sentiment to continue.

The discussion reflected deep emotions about the terrorist crisis, showing that the journalists whose job it is to report about the news are as personally affected by such incidents as are other Rhode Islanders and readers.

One of the most significant developments was that most of those who felt that the byline strike should have been postponed nevertheless continued to withhold their names once the decision had been made.

The Providence Guild has always prided itself on

its commitment to democracy, and this was an instance of that tradition at work.

Those wanting to end or postpone the strike felt that the union should not publicly pursue its dispute with the company during a time of national

grief, and that suspending the byline strike would have been a humanizing gesture to the families who lost loved ones.

The arguments in favor of continuing the byline strike included a feeling that it would have been unprincipled to interrupt it because the news had taken on extra importance; that Guild members would have seemed willing to give up credit lines only when they didn't really count.

At the same time, those in favor of continuing the job action noted that the company had not suspended its violation of federal labor law.

As had been the Guild's experience in the past three byline strikes, readers did notice.

Members of the Blackstone Valley news bureau found a picketer at the entrance to the parking lot of the Lincoln office.

His sign said that Journal policy was unfair to citizens. Guild members explained to him that it wasn't a company policy, but a union job action. But he said he didn't care, that he and people he talked to wanted to know who wrote the stories.

The man was upset enough to stand in the rain for about two hours with his sign.

As has been the case in the past, The Journal did not cover this or other aspects of the union issue, continuing its practice of using censorship as a weapon in the labor dispute.

The Executive Board called this byline strike. However, prior to and after that action, some members have been withholding bylines and credit lines as a continuing protest of the company's treatment of its workers.

For the Guild, the work of its members and the debate over the byline strike during the terrorist crisis represented the best in the union:

A difficult decision was made; union members supported it. And most importantly, they put out excellent newspapers during a time of crisis and stress

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