By: David Robb

Ongoing Actors Strike Puts Newspapers In Awkward Position

by David Robb

CORRECTION: The first version of this story incorrectly reported that

The Washington Post had signed an interim agreement to shoot TV

and radio commercials with union actors during the strike. The

Post has not signed such an agreement, and is not shooting TV

ads. The newspaper’s agency of record for radio, Waveworks LLC, has

signed an interim agreement, and the Post is recording radio


(The Hollywood Reporter) The ongoing actors strike against the
advertising industry has put some major U.S. newspapers in the
awkward position of reporting the news and being the news.

A few newspapers have signed interim agreements that allow them to shoot

TV and radio commercials with union actors during the strike. The vast

majority of newspapers, however, have not signed interim pacts, and many

of them are producing local TV and radio commercials using nonunion


On Friday, about a dozen striking members of the Screen Actors Guild
and AFTRA picketed a Wall Street Journal commercial that was shooting
at the Pinot restaurant in Hollywood.

‘The Wall Street Journal is historically anti-union editorially, so
it comes as no surprise that they are shooting a nonunion commercial,’
SAG strike captain De Wayne Williams said from the picket line
Friday. ‘They cannot come into the back yard of the entertainment
capital of the world and not expect to hear from the unions.’

The Los Angeles Times had been planning to shoot a nonunion
commercial during the first few weeks of the strike, but the
spot’s casting director, Danny Goldman, said the Times canceled
the shoot after its planned production was reported in The
Hollywood Reporter.

‘They canceled that shoot,’ Goldman said. ‘I think they were
embarrassed. They are a service to the community as well as
being a big conglomerate, and I think they felt it was too
controversial to shoot a nonunion commercial in a town that
has 90,000 union actors.’

Many actors have complained about the lack of news coverage
their strike has received from the mainstream press, but a
newspaper’s involvement in a labor dispute shouldn’t preclude
it from covering the strike, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning
reporter and University of Southern California journalism
professor Ed Guthman.

Regarding whether the Wall Street Journal will write about the
picketing of its TV ad, Guthman said: ‘I think they should, and
I think they can. But we’ll have to wait and see if they do. The
Journal has the reputation of being a very professional newspaper.
Its editorials are conservative, but its news coverage is respected.
I would think they’d cover it; it’s news. I think they have a
responsibility to do that when it involves them. This is a major
labor dispute; it’s a legitimate issue. I’ll be surprised if they
don’t cover it.’

(In the interest of fairness, Guthman said his daughter Diane is a
member of the Screen Actors Guild and has walked several picket
lines during the strike.)

Local editors and reporters for the Wall Street Journal were unaware
Friday that the striking actors were picketing a commercial for the
newspaper. When told of the picketing, they said they would look
into whether it is newsworthy enough to write about.

‘We’re covering the strike,’ the Journal’s Los Angeles bureau chief
Jonathan Friedland said. ‘We’re not covering the picketing on a
day-in and day-out basis.’

News organizations face special problems when they cover stories
that involve themselves, San Francisco Chronicle executive editor
Matthew Wilson said.

‘Any time a news organization covers itself, the news organization
always worries about the appearance of a conflict of interest – that
readers might perceive that the newspaper’s coverage might favor the
paper’s own interests,’ Wilson said. ‘In fact, news organizations
can do a variety of things to address that perception. For instance,
we have used Associated Press reporting on a topic that involves us.
That means an independent news organization is writing the story and
deciding what is important and what’s not important. In other cases,
we have had our own reporters write about us, and we build a
metaphorical wall to protect the reporter from any influence from
the business operations of the organization. So you rely on the
integrity of the reporter to report the story as the reporter sees
fit and not necessarily as the management or ownership of the paper
sees fit.’

The Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corp., which also owns the San
Francisco Newspaper Agency, the Chronicle’s business arm. The San
Francisco Newspaper Agency, in turn, is one of the few news
organizations that have signed the striking actors unions’ interim


Staff Reports

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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