Photojournalists at 'The Sun' Launch Protest 'Strike'

By: E&P Staff Eighteen Baltimore Sun photojournalists launched a byline strike today protesting Tribune Co.'s move to force reporters to become photographers and videographers as a way to cut costs, according to a press release sent to E&P today by the Washingotn-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. It will continue for three days.

"If Chicago-based Tribune has its way, reporters at The Sun, with little or no experience in photography, will not only be required to shoot still pictures, but take pictures with video cameras for submission to the paper?s website while they are conducting interviews and writing stories on deadline," the release warns.

Sun spokeswoman Linda Yurche told E&P that the paper had asked that reporters be allowed to use cameras, which is restricted under the current Guild contract, but said it was not an effort to eliminate photographers.

"Readers want pictues, not just words," she said. "In an ideal world, we would just hire more photographers, but this is not an ideal world. We have a great photo staff, they should not feel threatened."

The rest of the union release follows.

?Combining jobs and forcing reporters with limited experience to take videos and still shots will compromise the quality of The Sun,? said Cet Parks, Chief Negotiator for the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. ?This is another misguided step by Tribune and clear evidence that the company will compromise quality to save a buck. What Tribune fails to see is that when quality suffers advertisers will spend their money elsewhere.?

In protest Sun photojournalists will withhold their bylines from pictures they take from June 11- 13. The photojournalists along with two photo editors and three technicians sent a letter to Sun Editor Timothy Franklin on June 7 expressing concern that quality will be compromised if the paper moves aggressively in this direction.

The company is proposing to remove a contractual provisions that says: ?No employee shall be required to work as a combination reporter/photographer except outdoor editors or in special situations which may be agreed upon by the Guild and the publisher.?

?The Guild understands that when there?s breaking news and no photographer close by, reporters can use a camera,? said Bill Salganik, President of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. ?Reporters have already been shooting video for the Web, without objections from the Guild, but we don't want this to be forced on reporters in a situation where quality would be compromised.?

?Aside from the fact that most of us can't take professional-quality photos, reporters don't want to be placed in a position where we're missing facts and quotes while trying to get the right scene in the viewfinder,? Salganik continued.

Michael Hill, Chair of the Guild Unit at The Sun, said the Guild ?understands that the business is changing and that we need to be more nimble, but we fear that a blanket elimination of this provision would open the way for abuses that could damage the newspaper.?

?The Guild is not standing in the way of change, but we understand that we have to proceed cautiously to avoid doing damage to one of The Sun's strongest assets,? Hill said.

Rather than forcing reporters to take pictures, Guild officials are urging Tribune to enhance the current team model with professionals who are actually interested in taking videos for the website. They believe a quality product smartly delivered will drive advertisers and readers to the paper and the website.

?To be competitive on the web we need not just video, but compelling video and still images,? Salganik said. "Timeliness is a vital component to make our website essential. Bogging down reporters with video or still photography downloads on deadline will only hamper turnaround time on stories and compromise the quality of our paper."

The byline strike comes while the Guild, which represents 480 Baltimore Sun employees and Tribune are in contract negotiations. Talks commenced May 16 with the contract expiring June 24. Guild leaders, who represent reporters, photojournalists, columnists, copy editors, designers, advertising personnel, sales assistants, customer service representatives, finance specialists, productions and systems support, have consistently urged the company to work together because more can be accomplished through cooperation.

Guild officials worry that the company is too focused on cutting and less interested in investing in the future of the paper.

Last week, Tribune bought out 41 Sun employees, including 16 veteran reporters and editors. In addition, it laid off three creative advertising designers. Before last week?s cuts, The Sun's work force had already been reduced by 22 percent since 2003 through a combination of buyouts and departures, while employee turnover reached 61 percent over the same period.

"Tribune needs a better strategy than one based on cutting staff and handing reporters cameras and video cameras,? Hill said. "We take pride in our work that is why we put our bylines on pictures and stories. For members of the Guild pride in what we do matters every day of the year.?


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here