Thursday, April 12, 2007

Unions and newspeople

I belonged to the employee union at Dow Jones when I worked at Barron's back in the eighties, and I came away with a negative feeling about newsroom unions.

The Dow Jones union was weak and ineffective back then, in part because it was not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and partly because it had a radical leadership that was out of touch with the members.

So I've been impressed by what I've been reading about the Dow Jones union recently. In an item today, the SABEW blog reports that the union is holding its own in tough negotiations with Dow Jones management. The union now has much of what it lacked in the 1980s -- AFL-CIO affiliation and the support and active participation of newsroom employees.

I used to feel that Business Week was better off without a union -- particularly a weak one like the old "independent" Dow Jones union. But I am not sure if that is still so, in light of the layoffs of the past couple of years.

The latest layoffs removed experienced, talented journalists, including its highly-reputed labor editor, Aaron Bernstein, and Bill Symonds of the Boston bureau. People like Aaron and Bill would never have been laid off under union seniority rules.

A union could have tried to bring some sanity to staff reductions, and pointed to anomalies such as the swelling of top-masthead positions.

Still, I've heard of no move afoot to bring a union to Business Week. That's not surprising, because journalists (this one included) are notoriously incompetent when it comes to protecting their own self-interests. In this instance, since good people have been put to the axe, the readers have suffered right along with them.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site, gary-weiss.com.

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