By: Joe Strupp and The Associated Press
Newsroom workers at the Star Tribune voted 110-2 on Tuesday to call on Publisher and CEO Par Ridder to resign over data-theft allegations by his former employer, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Ridder has acknowledged sharing Pioneer Press data on advertising, profits and personnel matters with Star Tribune officials. He said he intended to use them only to re-create the forms with Star Tribune data.
The Pioneer Press is also seeking to enforce what it says are noncompete agreements that it claims should bar Ridder and two other executives from working for the Minneapolis newspaper for a year. A Ramsey County judge is considering that request and is expected to rule later this summer. Ridder has said he thought the noncompete agreements had been waived.
The vote by the Newspaper Guild, which covers roughly 300 Star Tribune workers in the newsroom and other parts of the paper, came after some reporters said sources regularly ask them about their bosses’ legal issues.
“We, the journalists of the Star Tribune, call on Par Ridder to resign as publisher,” the resolution said. “We believe the unethical actions to which he admitted in court have damaged the Star Tribune’s credibility and integrity and undermined our ability to hold public figures accountable for their actions. For the good of the Star Tribune and the community it serves, we believe he should step down.”
Avista Capital Partners LP, which owns the Star Tribune, has stood behind Ridder.
“This vote is merely union posturing, and it changes nothing,” Star Tribune Chairman Chris Harte said in a statement. “As I have said before, the Guild does not get to decide who is publisher of the Star Tribune. Avista has full confidence in Par Ridder.”
Chris Serres, vice chair of the Guild unit at the Star Tribune, rejected the claim of union posturing.
“This is anything but posturing,” he said after the vote. “There were 110 people who voted in favor of this resolution. We spent a good deal of time crafting the resolution, discussing it and ultimately taking it to a full membership vote. That’s not posturing, it’s a statement of principle, and it was made through a democratic process. And whether anything comes of it is another matter.”
Earlier today, E&P’s Joe Strupp reported the following.
“Basically, we will have a show of hands and a discussion. It is a vote on whether he should resign,” said Chris Serres, a unit officer of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild and a Star Tribune reporter. “If a majority put up their hands and say he should step down, we will submit a letter to that effect.” The vote is set for 4:30 p.m. CDT.
Ridder, who became publisher in March after the Star Tribune was purchased from McClatchy by Avista Capital Partners, is accused of copying advertising and circulation information from the Pioneer Press prior to his departure and sharing it with Star Tribune executives. MediaNews Group, which owns the Pioneer Press, has sued the Star Tribune, claming Ridder broke a non-competitive agreement by sharing the data, while also filing a motion seeking an injunction to remove Ridder from his job for a year.
Attorneys for each paper submitted their final arguments on the motion Monday.
Serres said Ridder’s actions have raised concerns among the 310 guild members, who contend he should not be representing the paper. “We believe that if we stay silent, we would be sending a message to the public that we hold our own publisher to a different standard than we hold others.”
Guild Unit Chair Jaime Chismar agreed. “We would like to give our members a chance to show their feelings,” she said. “It has been difficult for a lot of our members to get their jobs done. Reporters, talking to sources, have to spend 10 to 15 minutes explaining the situation to people they are talking to.”
Ridder’s office did not return a call seeking comment. Star Tribune Chairman Chris Harte has said the paper has no plans to fire Ridder.