By: Mark Fitzgerald
An arbiter has ruled that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch must reimburse reporter Carolyn Tuft for the two days of pay withheld during a 2005 disciplinary suspension for errors in stories about a local ministry.
The arbiter, deciding a case brought by the St. Louis Newspaper Guild Local 36047, also said that the reporter’s errors were serious enough to warrant discipline. Arbiter Daniel G. Jacobowski refused a Guild demand that the paper revoke a lengthy apology to readers about the stories.
In an announcement of the result Tuesday, the Guild characterized it as a victory for the union and Tuft, a 14-year veteran of the paper.
Local Guild president Jeff Gordon said in a statement that the decision sent a clear message throughout the newsroom “that management could not take excessive and arbitrary actions against reporters and other employees who were committed to doing quality work.”
The Guild had strongly protested the suspension, and last August held a rally outside the newspaper building to support Tuft.
Post-Dispatch Editor Arnie Robbins said in a telephone interview that the paper was “satisified with the outcome” of the arbitration.
“I don’t think anyone really wins in an arbitration like this,” he said. “We ran an apology to readers because we felt it was important to our credibility to correct a number of errors in two stories. I absolutely think it was the right way to go.”
He noted that the arbiter found that the paper was justified in taking some disciplinary action against Tuft, and in publishing the 577-word apology.
Arbiter Jacobowski let stand a written warning letter from the paper to Tuft.
Tuft was disciplined for two stories published in April and May 2005 about the Joyce Meyer Ministries. After complaints from the religious organization, the paper said in a note to readers that it “is taking corrective action to address the professional failures that led to these errors. We know that mistakes erode our credibility and compromise our journalism. Our goal is to make our news coverage accurate, fair and trustworthy. We apologize to you, our readers, for the journalistic transgressions in the May 1 and April 18 articles.”
Among the errors, according to the note, were assertions that Meyer and her husband had free use of a ministry plane, when in fact the cost of flights was deducted from their compensation packages, and that four of the Meyer’s children sat on the ministry board when two actually did.
The union contended that Tuft had been unfairly singled out for discipline, and that “the errors in question were neither intentional or serious.” Some statements characterized as errors by the apology were not in fact errors, the union argued in arbitration.