Meeting reminder (2PM Tuesday); A letter to Gannett; A breach of Star ethics

Guild quarterly meeting: Our next meeting is scheduled for 2pm -245 p.m. March 30 [Tuesday] at the Musicians Hall, 325 N. Delaware St., if you want to address concerns, gripe about issues in the newsroom or just get your frustrations off your chest in a safe, collegial environment. It is NOT mandatory.

Kronos:
We’re still waiting to hear back from the company re: our objections.

New Ethics Breach:
The Indy News Guild officers and stewards have asked Star editorial NOT to allow any of our journalists’ work to be reused without their authorization as part of any in-house marketing or advertising campaign. This happened with disastrous results last week.

Features reporter TJ Banes wrote on summer camps in January 2007 — only to have the story “repurposed” and used with her byline as part of a metro section “summer camp guide” that was labeled a “special advertising feature” in the print Star metro section Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

The story and two photos were used without the writer’s or photographer’s knowledge and the content was manipulated to make it appear to be current. This wasn’t a case of an article being simply reprinted. It was altered to mislead readers in a way that could damage this reporter’s credibility with the sources of the original story. It was an embarrassment to the ethical standards the Indy News Guild has been pushing Star management to uphold since 2006, when the company first presented the idea of having journalists produce and edit so-called “advertorial” content.

The summer camp article is a glaring example of why the Guild has raised objections to the unit’s work being repurposed in this manner. It allows another department — marketing, custom content, momslikeme or whomever — to use our work in such a careless and unprofessional fashion that it reflects badly upon the journalism produced by those in the Star newsroom. Making it worse (in the Guild’s opinion) is that the tease to the “guide” above the Indianapolis Star masthead on A1 gave no indication this was an advertising product, conveying the impression that the summer camp material was produced by journalists. Look at the section and it is labeled “special advertising feature” in small type.

The Guild has asked for a meeting with management to discuss this issue. The Guild wants original reporters and photographers notified in the future if another department reuses a story or photograph. Guild members have the right to have their bylines removed from their work if they object to the way it is used. The online version of the story (which we spotted on indystar.com and asked to be removed from the site) had no markings that indicated it was advertising-produced.

This fiasco was embarrassing for everyone who works on the editorial side of the Star. It also violates Gannett’s written Principle’s of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms which states, “We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news” and “We will differentiate advertising from news.” To their credit a clarification was issued, the story was pulled off the Web and an explanation provided to the reporter.

Vacation:
April 1 kicks in the vacation request time-tracking system. All requests for days off between April 2 and Sept. 15 have to be OK’d within two weeks of their submission by your manager, as it is first-come, first-served. All newsroom managers have a copy of the contract.

Protesting to the top:
The Indy News Guild over the weekend mailed about 20 letters to members of Gannett’s board of directors, its biggest investors and even the federal securities and exchange commission (SEC) asking them to rescind the bonuses paid out to the company’s executives. We feel we needed to send these letters in light of what we experienced in 2009, and wanted to share with you the letters which are nearly identical. Here’s what they said:

“As shareholders and stakeholders of Gannett Co. Inc., we take exception to the bonus provided CEO, President and Chairman Craig A. DuBow.  Please rescind the award and pay a stipend commensurate for an individual who was out of the office recuperating from surgery for a large share of 2009.

Paying a bonus equal to 50 percent of the $942,000 base salary is an egregious abuse of our company’s resources and shows a callous disregard for shareholders. Concessions prevail for employees even as the strategy employed at McLean, Va., is still unfolding and may prove insufficient to ward off financial danger for our company.

Yes, GCI’s share price rallied in 2009, but so did the DJIA, and by a wider margin. Our share price has returned to only half its value of March 2008, while DJIA is about 20 percent off the mark, and the S&P 500 has performed even better.

A $1.5 million bonus in this case seems excessive and premature, as are the additional perquisites for Mr. DuBow noted in the current Proxy statement. These include membership in a country club and use of GCI aircraft for three years after leaving the company, the donation of GCI home office equipment, payment of Medicare supplements, and access to company-paid secretarial and technical assistance.

Had the GCI stock price remained in the range of the $78-per-share price prevailing when Mr. DuBow became president of the company, this bonus and perquisite compensation scheme might have been deemed satisfactory. In the company’s current financial straits, however, this is excessive generosity on the part of the board and is abusive to shareholders.

We might note the compensation for Mr. DuBow is clearly eroding employee morale here in Indianapolis, the No. 4 newspaper in GCI in terms of daily circulation. At the Star newspaper and indystar.com, leadership has been taking mandated unpaid furloughs. The Indy News Guild, which represents about 180 newsroom workers, has been forced to accept furloughs and a permanent 10% pay cut. The employment base is some 40 percent off the level in place when the newspaper was acquired by GCI a decade ago. News hole has been intentionally reduced, circulation outlets shrunk and employee headcount trimmed. The digital initiatives mandated by McLean have not offset the revenue slide on the print side.

Clearly, the company has tried to cut its way to prosperity.

On an end note, please indulge us on an observation particularly relevant to the workforce in Indianapolis. We have numerous posters in place identifying our core values — Lead, Innovate, Include, Respect. The excessive bonus flies in the face of these values. Please rescind the retirement perquisites and the bonus, and pay the executives a stipend commensurate to their contribution.

Regards,

The officers and stewards of Indianapolis News Guild, Local
34070
CWA-TNG Tom
Spalding, president
P.O. Box 44130
Indianapolis, IN 46244
www.indynewsguild.com.”

*Thanks for reading.

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