Detroit Papers’ Editorials Hit Union in GM Strike

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By: Joe Strupp

As expected, the strike by 73,000 General Motors employees sparked huge coverage at Detroit’s two major daily papers, which covered Page One with the story and filled six inside pages each with reports.

But if the striking auto workers were looking to the editorial pages of The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press for sympathy, they are not likely to find it.

[UPDATE: The union and GM reached an agreement early Wednesday, ending the two-day strike.]

In editorials today, neither paper showed support for the striking United Auto Workers, with the Free Press lashing out at both sides and the News urging the workers to make concessions for the good of the industry.

“What’s good for GM is good for the UAW,” the headline over the News’ editorial proclaimed. The opinion piece went on to state: “Despite having access to GM’s financial statements and projections and having made some preliminary concessions in the last two years, the UAW still believes the work force is entitled to perks that no longer are sustainable in today’s global economy.”

It later adds, “Union members on the picket line Monday railed against the big salaries and bonuses of a few top executives. They seemed not to be aware that they are the best paid factory workers in the world.”

The Free Press, essentially saying ‘a pox on both houses,’ declares: “Well, this is just what Michigan needed. And the U.S. auto industry. And the ever-shrinking United Auto Workers union.” It later states, “The strike may have caught many unprepared, given the widespread belief that because the industry is in such rough shape, this was not going to be the year for a walkout.”

On the news-gathering front, the News has about eight reporters, including its six-person auto team, on the story, according to Deputy Business Editor Susan Carney. She said at least four photographers are on the job. At the Free Press, three columnists and six business reporters are working the story, says Automotive Editor Jamie Butters. He said several others from metro are pitching in.

Each paper played the strike story big on Page One, with the Free Press devoting its entire front page to the story, using the headline: “STRIKE HOW LONG CAN IT LAST?” The News quoted a union member for its headline, “Off a cliff” and used nearly all of its front page for strike reporting, with the bottom spot for an update on the continued state budget impasse.

Web site traffic has been boosted, with the News reporting 1.6 million page views on Monday, the first day of the strike, up from the usual 1.2 million for a Monday. The Free Press reported a smaller increase, from an average of 1.2 million to 1.3 million, according to Joe Grimm, recruiting and development editor.

Each paper is also posting more video than usual, editors say, including some video interviews of their own staff. “This is the first auto strike of the Internet age,” declares Butters. “The way to cover it is breaking it on the Web.”

One thing editors have not found on the Web are vicious or offensive comments, which some had feared during such an emotional event. Although the Free Press site has logged more than 1,000 comments on strike-related stories in one day, Grimm says few are unacceptable.
“We get excited if we get 100 comments on a story,” Grimm said. “They’ve all been pretty civil, things we can live with.”

New Media Director Nancy Hanus at the News offered a similar report. “Our auto talk forum is having about 100 letters per hour, up from about 10 on average,” she said. “People are pretty much keeping each other in check, calling each other on facts and we haven?t had to pull down anything major.”

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