Guild: We’re Not Stopping ‘Indy Star’ Info Center, Just Fighting For Ethics

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Newspaper Guild officers at The Indianapolis Star say they aren’t resisting the implementation of Gannett Co.’s “”Information Center””-style newsroom — just management’s vague proposals that so far include having copy editors write advertorials.

“”We don’t want this to be a make-or-break issue, but we’re fervent in our belief that you can’t have a foot in each world (of the newsroom and advertising), and still have credibility and credence in the community,”” the Guild’s local treasurer, Judy Wolf, told E&P in a telephone interview.

In interviews and a memo of their own, Guild officers reacted to a stinging memo from the Star’s Vice President Ali Zoibi accusing the union of dragging its feet in accepting the Information Center concept that Gannett is rolling out across its 96 daily newspapers.

“”(W)e cannot wait for people to change who don’t want to change,”” Zoibi wrote in a memo he first e-mailed to Wolf, and then — 24 minutes later, according to Wolf — to the entire newsroom. “”Competitors are launching new products everyday. While waiting for the Guild to respond to us two new, direct competitors, launched products.””

Noibi added that the paper is going forward “”urgently”” with the Gannett concept, which includes introducing citizen journalism, continuous online coverage of local news, blogging, database mining and other convergence strategies.

His memo also included what the Guild sees as a threat, a kind of management-side version of the traditional “”work to the contract”” union tactic.

“”Here’s the bottom line,”” Zoibi wrote. “”If we work together, we can have a much more effective operation that will go a long way to our success as a business. If we don’t work together, the company will honor every word of the current collective bargaining agreement with the result that the Guild will be limited to that work which is specifically identified in the agreement. Anything not identified in the contract (everything except the print product of The Indianapolis Star) will be performed outside the Guild.””

But Wolf says the union’s contract, which extends until the end of 2008, specifically includes many online positions as covered by the contract.

Zoibi did not immediately return a voice message seeking comment that was left after normal working hours.

Wolf said the union had given its “”general buy-in”” to the Information Center concept: “”We’ve repeatedly said we understand that things change, and we’ve repeatedly said we want the paper to do well. We didn’t get into journalism to be on a dying paper.””

In the two sessions Guild leaders had with management representatives over the Information Center idea, the union said it was stunned to hear suggestions from Editor Dennis Ryerson suggest first that reporters could be assigned to write for advertorial sections, a proposal later amended to include only copy editors and other newsroom employees who do not get bylines or photo credits.

No Guild-covered editorial employees of any type should be involved in advertorials, the union said in its memo Wednesday evening.

“”We cannot stress how important this is, both for the integrity of the entire staff and the credibility of The Star,”” the Guild said. “”All editorial employees are held to the same, high ethical standards, not just those with bylines or photo credits.””

The union also complained that Star management was rushing it to make a decision on a proposal the newspaper and Gannett has crafted over months. “”Just like they’ve got to report to (Gannett headquarters in) Virginia, we’ve got to consult with”” the union international, Wolf said.

Here is the complete texts of the memo exchanges, beginning with the Guild reply:


—– Forwarded by Judy Wolf/INI on 12/13/2006 06:24 PM —–
Judy Wolf/INI

12/13/2006 05:24 PM

To
dennis ryerson, james keough
cc
StarNewsroom, Ali Zoibi/[email protected]
Subject
Re: Fw: Information CenterLink





Dear Dennis and James:

The Guild is sorry for the delay in giving you a formal general buy-in about the planned changes in the newsroom.

We have always accepted that businesses evolve over time, and personnel must adapt where possible. And we all want The Star to be a financially successful newspaper.

The Guild’s responsibility here is to protect jobs and pay for covered employees, and to help maintain the editorial integrity of our product.

Please realize that you first approached the Guild on Dec. 1 with a proposal to make what seemed to be substantial changes in the newsroom, including changes in contractual language covering primary responsibilities and job descriptions – – a plan that you’ve been working on for months. We know you need a quick reply and we acted promptly to give you that reply. In the meantime, we repeatedly assured management that we were conceptually on board with making The Star better and more successful in the future, but that we had an obligation to consult with our international representative.

We are supporting the information center concept based on these two general positions:

1) No editorial employees — this includes but is not limited to reporters, copy editors, editors, photographers, designers, graphic artists, editorial writers, paraprofessionals, online editors/producers/staffers, librarians, clerks and copy messengers — will be involved in any advertorial work. We cannot stress how important this is, both for the integrity of the entire staff and the credibility of The Star. We were stunned that the company proposed this, at first suggesting that newsroom reporters could write advertorial copy. When we protested that strongly, the company said, “”Well, what about copy editors and designers?” All editorial employees are held to the same, high ethical standards, not just those with bylines or photo credits.

We’ve still not heard back from the company about whether it’s dropped its idea of having editorial staffers do advertorial work. Yet, the Guild hasn’t sent anyone in management an unpleasant or threatening note because of an allegedly slow response.

2) The basic skills required of staffers, as Dennis said in our second meeting (Dec. 8), will remain the centerpieces of jobs. Because of that, as Dennis stated a few times in that session, the company expects no loss of jobs, no loss of pay and no loss of pay classificiation/grade or tiers.

To make sure that expectations are clear, we are drafting a proposal for a “”letter of understanding”” to accompany the contract (which expires at the end of 2008) as soon as possible.

Now, because it must be addressed, about Ali Zoibi’s unpleasant note today: We are disappointed that Ali, who was not at either of the recent discussions with management, would suggest we have been uncooperative. Further, he inaccurately suggests that only the printed Star is covered by the contract.

We are a reasonable union that consistently has tried to work with managers for the good of covered employees and the good of The Star. As such, we have considerations that other unions don’t, such as needing to maintain the high wall of separation between editorial and advertising, as well as ensuring that no jobs are lost and no wages cut as we move. We’ll continue to do that, because that’s good for the staff and The Star — and we’d appreciate similar conduct from top managers.

For the Guild,

Abe Aamidor
Sylvia Halladay
Tom Spalding
Judy Wolf



Ali Zoibi/INI

12/13/2006 03:38 PM

To
StarNewsroom
cc

Subject
Fw: Information Center





Wanted everyone to know the status of our discussions with the Guild concerning our transformation to an Information Center and the actions we are taking because of their apparent opposition. We have not gotten a positive repsonse from the Guild to our very urgent need to move forward.

Ali


Office: 317.444.8005
Fax: 317.444.8331
[email protected]
—– Forwarded by Ali Zoibi/INI on 12/13/2006 03:14 PM —–
Ali Zoibi/INI

12/13/2006 03:14 PM

To
Judy Wolf/INI
cc

Subject
Information Center





Judy,

As Barbara and Dennis talked about during our recent employee meetings, our business is changing and in order to thrive we need to change, too. Their message was loud and clear. In fact, many employees thanked them for developing plans and having the courage to make changes and do things differently. Our purpose was to share information about what we plan to do so we don’t go the way of many other newspapers that have had to drastically lay off personnel. We all know the list of papers and the cuts they made and continue to make.

The Star’s team has been proactive. Dennis and his management team have developed a clear plan and direction for our future, the Information Center. Is it a plan that has every “”i”” dotted and “”t”” crossed? No. Is it a work in progress? Yes. It is a plan that needs to be able to flex to a constantly changing business environment? Yes.

We recently met with you and three other Guild representatives to invite you to join with us, as a cooperative partner, as we work to change our business model. Quite frankly we were expecting a quick and supportive “”yes”” given what our future will likely be without these changes. Despite repeated requests to join us as we implement changes to benefit all employees, the Guild insists on knowing every detail of a plan that must, by definition, be fluid. We explained to you that we don’t have all the answers now but one thing is for certain. We will make these changes with or without your assistance.

Here’s the bottom line. If we work together, we can have a much more effective operation that will go a long way to our success as a business. If we don’t work together, the company will honor every word of the current collective bargaining agreement with the result that the Guild will be limited to that work which is specifically identified in the agreement. Anything not identified in the contract (everything except the print product of The Indianapolis Star) will be performed outside the Guild.

Is that what we want? Absolutely not. However we cannot wait for people to change who don’t want to change. Competitors are launching new products everyday. While waiting for the Guild to respond to us two new, direct competitors, launched products.

We wanted you to know that since the Guild does not want to partner with us through this reorganization, we will move forward with our plans. We have a sense of urgency that the Guild apparently cannot appreciate.

Ali


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