By Emory Williamson / Photos by Breanna Gaddie
Against SPJ officials’ wishes, The Indianapolis Star guild President Tom Spalding came with multicolored leaflets in hand to give a message to media giant and convention sponsor Gannett Co.
“Gannett: Profits over People” read a yellow leaflet. “110% Effort, 90% Pay” read a blue leaflet.
Spalding, along with several members from the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, came to the SPJ convention Friday to distribute materials criticizing Gannett over a recent agreement between the guild and Gannett-owned newspaper The Indianapolis Star.
The guild voted Tuesday to ratify a two-year contract that includes a 10 percent pay cut and no wage increases for two years.
“This is a great vehicle and forum to relay a simple message,” Spalding said. “The message to Gannett is that we made a $2 million sacrifice.”
Spalding, a business reporter for the Star, targeted a morning session called “A Bulletproof Career,” which featured Virgil Smith, vice president of talent management for Gannett. Guild members distributed leaflets, buttons, pens and lanyards to convention attendees and to Smith.
SPJ President Dave Aeikens said he preferred that the guild not distribute leaflets, but added that they were not reprimanded nor were guild materials removed from the site.
“We are very empathetic and sympathetic to the journalists at The Indianapolis Star and very supportive of their efforts, but we don’t want the perception that we’re taking sides in labor issues,” Aeikens said.
Aeikens, a reporter for Gannett affiliate Times Media in St. Cloud, Minn., said his newspaper has endured layoffs and he has had 10 furlough days this year.
“It’s not a great situation,” he said. “I’m sure the company would prefer there not be layoffs, but that’s the way things are.”
Spalding said he asked to protest at the SPJ convention and was initially granted permission by SPJ interim co-executive director Chris Vachon. But Vachon said she retracted after consultation with fellow SPJ leaders. She said SPJ wanted to “pass on this” because it doesn’t want to get involved in “labor-type” issues.
Spalding privately discussed the matter with Smith and said the Gannett executive was sympathetic with his hope to spare the Star from further cuts, given the guild’s sacrifice.
“I hope he will take that up the chain,” Spalding said, adding that his group’s convention attendance was a “mission accomplished.”
In an interview after his panel discussion, Smith said he wasn’t familiar with the specific issues involving the contract negotiations and declined to comment.
In a letter Wednesday to Star Publisher Michael G. Kane, Spalding wrote that the pay cut at the Star was among the highest permanent wage cuts of any newspaper in the country.
“Long-term, we expect the company to be aware of this sacrifice when the economy improves,” Spalding wrote. “Short-term, we expect the company to spare this unit should Gannett need to continue to cut costs.”
The contract would also allow the publisher to assign journalists to unfamiliar assignments, such as advertorials – stories published with the intention of advertising a product.
Kane declined to comment on guild activities at the SPJ convention or what specific changes would be implemented at the paper based on the new contract.
“It’s a free country,” Kane said. “I feel I have a good relationship with guild leadership and our journalists. Anything I have to say I’ll say to them directly.”
James Keough, vice president of human resources at the Star, also declined to comment. Keough was involved in the labor negotiations between the guild and the local newspaper.
“We’re more than just a number,” Spalding said in an interview. “Journalism isn’t just a job ? it’s a love of our life. For them to just cut our salaries to improve a stock price was demoralizing.”