‘WSJ’ Middle East Staffers Rip Dow Jones In Letter to Board

By: Joe Strupp

A letter to the Dow Jones & Co. Board of Directors apparently written by a group of Middle East correspondents criticized the company’s cutbacks and claimed it is “squeezing the staff” during current contract talks.

“People buy the newspaper, subscribe to the wire service and click on the website because they need to know what we have to say. Providing the best news coverage in the world is our business plan,” the letter, first posted on the Poynter.org Romenesko site, stated in part. It later adds, “The best employees won’t be loyal to a company that isn’t loyal to them; they can always go elsewhere….

“It’s very clear: We take the risks; top managers reap the rewards.” Four bombs went off in Baghdad today, killing at least 127, despite the “surge” of U.S. troops.

“Since the last tortured contract negotiations, six of the paper’s war correspondents have left The Wall Street Journal,” the write. “David Cloud, Helene Cooper, Nick Kulish and Alexei Barrionuevo are now writing for The New York Times. Dan Morse has gone to the Washington Post. Hugh Pope has left journalism entirely.”

The letter, signed by 12 union and non-union staffers, in bureaus ranging from Iraq to Afghanistan, also notes the compensation of Dow Jones CEO Richard Zannino, claiming “… Rich Zannino and others at the top have excused themselves from the sacrifices the rest of us are being told to make for the good of the company. In 2006, Mr. Zannino received $173,441 to cover commuting costs from his Connecticut home to Manhattan. That means that each and every working day the company pays $667 just to get him to show up at the office. He gets far more just to sit in the back of a limo on his way to work than we get to go into combat.”

The letter comes as the Independent Association of Publisher’s Employees is in contract talks with Dow Jones over a new contract for editorial employees and as Dow Jones shareholders are set to meet today in Manhattan.

The letter also stated: “We’re worried that Dow Jones managers are not conveying to the board and the shareholders just how demoralized the staff is by these triennial efforts to make us pay for management’s raises. Senior managers talk about quality journalism, yet seem determined to undermine it. We ask you in your roles as board members to help convince management to look to the long-term health of Dow Jones & Co. and to negotiate a reasonable settlement so we can all get back to what we love: Journalism.”

The entire letter appears on Romenesko and includes the following.
***

* Mr. Zannino’s compensation package more than doubled when he became CEO in 2006, to $4.16 million from $2 million. Peter Kann was both CEO and chairman the previous years, yet his compensation was just under $3 million. So Mr. Zannino earned 42% more for half the job.

* If Mr. Zannino does that job badly and gets fired, the company has agreed to give him $10 million to clean out his desk.

While Mr. Zannino’s compensation is appalling on the face of it, this really isn’t a question of fairness. It’s a question of the wellbeing of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones & Co. The war correspondents wrote the board a letter similar to this one three years ago, during the last round of contract negotiations. At that time, we emphasized that the Journal, Barron’s, WSJ.COM, the newswires and the company prosper in large part on the ingenuity, diligence and skill of its writers, editors, designers and artists. People buy the newspaper, subscribe to the wire service and click on the website because they need to know what we have to say. Providing the best news coverage in the world is our business plan.

We warned at the time that trying to increase profits marginally by squeezing the staff would hurt the company in the long run. The best employees won’t be loyal to a company that isn’t loyal to them; they can always go elsewhere….

Respectfully,

Michael M. Phillips
Iraq, Afghanistan

Yochi J. Dreazen
Iraq

Neil King Jr.
Iraq, Sudan

Christopher Cooper
Iraq, Indonesia

Jay Solomon
Lebanon, Pakistan

The following non-unionized WSJ correspondents based abroad have reported from war zones or hostile areas. We sign both in protest of management’s efforts to slash our health benefits and in support of our union colleagues in their contract negotiations.

Farnaz Fassihi
Iraq, Lebanon, West Bank

Philip Shishkin
Iraq, Afghanistan

Yaroslav Trofimov
Iraq, Liberia, Afghanistan

Chip Cummins
Iraq

Alan Cullison
Afghanistan

Cam Simpson
West Bank/Gaza

Keith Johnson
Iraq



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