Guild Balks At TV Appearances

By: Mark Fitzgerald Unionized reporters at the Detroit News and Philadelphia
Inquirer say they are being shortchanged in arrangements
their newspapers have with local television channels

by Mark Fitzgerald

UNIONIZED REPORTERS AT the Detroit News and Philadelphia Inquirer say they are being shortchanged in the much ballyhooed arrangements their newspapers have with local television channels.
In Detroit, Newspaper Guild Local 22 has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Gannett Co.-owned Detroit News, after editor and publisher Robert Giles posted a memo claiming the right to order reporters to appear on news shows on WKBD-TV, Channel 50.
Right after the union complaint was lodged, the News filed its own grievance, arguing that the guild's advice that reporters not volunteer for the TV show amounted to an illegal partial work stoppage.
In Philadelphia, too, the guild is urging its members "to refrain from participating in any way" with "Inquirer News Tonight," an hour-long show produced by a Knight-Ridder Inc. subsidiary that runs WPHL-TV.
Guild Local 10 and the Knight-Ridder subsidiary, KR Video Inc., have been unable to agree on compensation for reporters who appear on the news show.
The separate disputes come as increasing numbers of newspapers are mulling similar arrangements with local television news shows, or are starting their own cable or broadcast news programs. And there may be compensation implications for the many newspapers involved in online services.
Detroit News editor and publisher Giles, however, says his paper's arrangement with the local station WKBD might be an innovative partnering of television and print ? but it's nothing new in the use of journalism.
"I think there's a clear tradition of multiple use of stories," Giles said.
"We share our stories with [the Associated Press (AP)] . . . . [W]e share stories with the Gannett News Service. A number of our people have cut their own deals with other media . . . . We have people who are commentators on NPR [National Public Radio] and so on," he added.
Giles noted, too, that News reporters produce many audiotex pieces ? and get no compensation.
The News arrangement with WKBD, which is owned by Paramount Communications Inc., began with the Nov. 7 broadcast.
Virtually every night during the 10 p.m. newscast, a News journalist talks with the WKBD anchors about a story that is to appear in the next day's newspaper.
WKBD approached the News last fall after the local CBS affiliate announced it was joining the Fox network in November. WKBD, which had been the Detroit Fox affiliate, is to join the United/Paramount network when it begins next year.
The moves gave WKBD its first news competition during the prime-time, 10 p.m. slot.
"So Channel 50 (WKBD), in trying to react to that, wanted to establish a relationship with the Detroit News because of our credibility and the depth of enterprise it will bring to their news coverage," Giles said.
Before the two news organizations agreed to a six-month experiment, the Detroit Newspaper Agency, which negotiates with the guild for the jointly produced Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, began talking with the union about compensation for the appearances and other issues, Giles said.
The News proposed that reporter appearances on the TV shows would be voluntary, and that overtime would be paid if the appearances took place outside normal work hours, Giles said.
But the two sides remained divided about whether reporters should be paid extra if they appeared on the show during the course of their normal working day.
The guild wanted a "talent fee" for any on-air appearance, Giles said.
Local 22 president Louis Mleczko, a News reporter, did not immediately return a phone message for comment.
"The guild kept dragging it on and on," Giles said. "It was clear to my mind that they had another agenda."
By that, Giles explained, he meant that the guild had indicated it would not cooperate on the TV issue since the News had not been cooperative on other issues.
The guild's contract with the News runs until next April 30.
For several weeks after the broadcasts began Nov. 7, however, management did not push the issue.
Only nonunion editors appeared on the broadcasts.
However, Giles also posted a memo asking for reporters to volunteer for the programs.
He said about 50 signed up for training for the appearances.
The guild's reaction to the call for volunteers, however, was to post its own memo with the slogan, "Say No to Channel 50."
"That was the basis for our grievance, arguing that this was a partial illegal work stoppage," Giles said.
Giles posted a second memo, notifying reporters that they could be assigned to make on-air appearances.
"I imposed the management clause of the contract, which gives us wide latitude on assignments," Giles said. "Technically, I could have done this from the very beginning."
That triggered the unfair labor practice complaint from the guild.
In comments to AP, Mleczko said the arrangement with a TV station is different from the paper's use of reporters for audiotex or wire service.
"We're working for a different news organization, a different company, in a different medium, and our people should get some compensation for it," Mleczko told the AP.
In the weeks since Giles' Dec. 9 memo, guild reporters have been appearing on the WKBD show. The union has advised members to follow orders to appear; the orders will be grieved later, the guild says.
Getting reporters at last has been good news for the TV station, according to its news director, Helen Pasakarnis.
"Although there are times when editors are better versed in the overall picture of the story, reporters can add a lot of flavor and richness," she told an AP reporter.
In Philadelphia, participation in KR Video's "Inquirer News Tonight" so far has been voluntary.
Guild Local 10 officials, in a statement posted in the Philadelphia Inquirer newsroom, urged members "to refrain from participating in any way with the TV show" until an agreement on compensation is reached.
So far, negotiations have gone nowhere. KR Video pays reporters between $55 and $100 ? if they work on their own time. Other reporters are not paid.
The guild wants a fixed-fee schedule ranging from $100 (for contacting a story source) to a maximum of $500 (for a journalist producing a regular feature).
KR Video general manager Dick Moore told AP he was "concerned" about the guild's discouragement of reporter volunteers.
"Their contribution is what the show was really built on," Moore said. "It was never Knight-Ridder's intention to produce a newscast that was separate from the Inquirer."
"Inquirer News Tonight" was launched last September on WPHL, which until then did not broadcast a news program.
Designed to be an alternative to violence-riddled local TV news, the hour-long product's performance is pleasing Knight-Ridder executives.
The executives made the show a centerpiece of their presentation at the recent PaineWebber Media Conference in Manhattan.


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