TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Reuters and the New York Newspaper Guild are locking horns over performance incentive plans that the union believes are unfairly targeting some of its journalists.
The guild says that 28 journalists have received these performance incentive plans, or PIPs, which the company says is designed to improve their newsroom performance. The union, however, says that the goals in the documents are not easily obtainable and that they include threats of discipline.
The larger issue here is changes being imposed by the new management team within the Reuters newsroom, led by editor in chief Stephen Adler, who is trying to overhaul the wire service and has been emphasizing more investigative business journalism. Some long-time staffers at Reuters now feel threatened by the changes being instituted. Of the 28 journalists that have been targeted, 22 have filed grievances that are likely to go to arbitration, a union representative said Friday.
“I have never seen such a broad-based attack on people in the organization,” said Peter Szekely, the secretary-treasurer of the guild who worked more than 25 years at Reuters, in a telephone interview with Talking Biz News on Friday. “This is something unprecedented. This is not an ordinary dispute.”
The company disputes the union’s version of events and says it is doing what it needs to do to improve the newsroom’s performance.
“Our efforts to maintain high editorial standards and thus serve our readers better comply with all of our contractual obligations,” said Barb Burg, vice president of corporate affairs at Thomson Reuters, in a statement e-mailed to Talking Biz News. “We are working constructively with staff members whose work needs improvement to ensure that they have clear performance goals and our support in achieving them. While we expect, and readers require, high performance from Reuters journalists, our expectations are reasonable and appropriate. We have worked cooperatively with the Guild on many issues, and look forward to continuing to do so.”
Szekely claims that the PIPs violate the union’s contract with Reuters because the company is using performance reviews as a basis for discipline. In addition, he says that the company is not giving the journalists targeted a fair shot.
“What’s happened here is that people have had two steps of discipline heaped upon them at the same time,” he said. “You need to give the person an opportunity to improve. Every one of these 28 people that received a PIP had a disciplinary notation, and on top of that they received a verbal warning. We consider that to be a violation. The mixing of the performance appraisal process and the discipline is a violation.”
The PIPs have forced some long-time business journalists from the Reuters newsrooms in Washington and New York, according to their colleagues.
Szekely says he has no problem with journalists losing their jobs if they are not performing. But in many cases, he argues, it’s been punitive.
The journalists are “given certain goals that at least on the face of it are not easily obtainable,” he said.