By: Joe Strupp
Gossip columnist Liz Smith is disputing Newsday’s announcement this morning that she chose to leave the paper because her contract had expired. She contends that she wanted to exercise an option to extend it for two years and plans to fight the newspaper through arbitration.
“It ain’t over yet, the fat lady hasn’t sung,” Smith told E&P just hours after a memo to employees from John Mancini, editor of the Melville, N.Y., paper, informed them that Smith’s column would no longer run in the paper.
Smith “did not exercise her option to extend her contract, which has expired,” the memo said. “We subsequently attempted to negotiate a new arrangement with her but could not come to mutually agreeable terms.”
Smith, who began writing for the paper’s New York Newsday in 1991 and signed an extension with Newsday in 1999, disagrees. She said the contract had not expired and accused Newsday of seeking to cut costs by letting her go. “We are going to have an arbitration over them saying the contract is over,” she told E&P. “I say it isn’t.”
Smith’s attorney, David Blasband, said the contract ended today, but included an option for Smith to continue for another two years. He said she gave notice in November that she wanted to exercise that option.
“They are saying she gave [notice] late,” Blasband explained. “But they really wanted her back for a fraction of what she had been making.” He said the paper offered to pay just 5% of her previous salary to have her stay on.
Blasband said he filed for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association and served Newsday with notice of the filing last week. He said a provision in Smith’s contract allows either side to take a dispute to the arbitration group.
“I think they want all of their employees to pay for the mistakes that management has made,” Smith said, referring to the paper’s recent circulation scandal and other budgetary woes. “This is just about money.”
Smith said she had never had problems with Newsday until this dispute: “The current management is a little hard to deal with.”
Newsday spokesman Stu Vincent declined to comment on Smith’s allegations, saying the paper was sticking to the information in the memo. He said Smith’s last column for Newsday ran today and the paper planned to fill her space by expanding its Flash! entertainment page to at least another half-page and “reevaluate the whole way Newsday covers entertainment news.”
Smith is also syndicated in at least 70 papers through Tribune Media Services.
The dispute “doesn’t affect our continuing syndication of her column,” confirmed Walter Mahoney, vice president of worldwide sales for TMS and Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services, when reached this afternoon by E&P. “We’re happy to have her.”
But will it be awkward for Tribune Co.-owned TMS to syndicate a columnist who’s at odds with Tribune Co.-owned Newsday? “No,” replied Mahoney.
Mahoney declined to say how long Smith’s contract with TMS runs. Smith said today there are three years remaining.
CORRECTION, March 31: Due to incorrect information supplied by Smith’s office, an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Smith started at New York Newsday in 1983 and resigned with Newsday in 1991. In fact, she started at New York Newsday in 1991 and resigned with Newsday in 1999.