When your newspaper is the news

Editors discuss their experiences

The New York Daily News is in the position of covering a strike against it by unions.

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.


The strike has changed our coverage in several ways. Stories about the strike are now mostly written by management editors rather than Guild reporters because there aren’t any Guild reporters around. I don’t think it is possible to cover the strike totally without bias and we’re not going to pretend otherwise. I think our news stories about the events of the strike — the rallies, the utterances, the violence — have all been objective, as objective as the pre-strike news stories. What we have not done is the sidebars that the other newspapers have done — the big picture stories on the history of the newspaper, profiles of the union leadership and management people . . . There’s a practical reason for that. We find ourselves with most of our cityside staff outside of the building . . . It ought to be pointed out that there’s not a paper in the city that doesn’t have a conflict of interest, a vested interest, in covering the strike. NewsDay, in particular, is in competition with us for readers.

—by Jim Willse, editor, The New York Daily News

The St. Petersburg Times became the story when a publicity-shy investor, Robert Bass, tried an unwelcome takeover.

I initially heard about it at the time when Gene Patterson was retiring and we were opening a new building — so we delayed publication of the fact that these 200 shares of stock had changed hands. Frankly, we didn’t perceive it having so great importance. The result was, I read about it in the Tampa Tribune, which was difficult to my pride and extremely hard for the staff.

. . . We assigned an extremely able reporter, Susan Taylor Martin, to write a story on the occasion of a visit that Bob Bass paid. Susan wrote a first- class story which kind of got us back in the league. Then she wrote a long article on the history of the Times and the current situation which I delayed publication of for roughly six months based on my concern that publication would cause us to have more difficulty coming to an amicable settlement.

. . . On final settlement, one of the provisions was that I would say nothing about it other than what was in a rather lengthy press release worked out between lawyers. The net effect is that I have been unable, and am at this moment unable, to accurately characterize the nature of this deal. It would be easier if I worked in a role in which I could just say “Well, I’m only the publisher and everybody knows publishers don’t believe in reporting, anyway.” Since I am editor, I have been forced to acknowledge that when you are fighting for the very existence of a publication which you care about, there are times when you have to say, “It is so much in the disinterest of the newspaper to publish an article at this time that we’re just going to delay publication.” And if anybody asks, that’s what I’ll say I’ve done. And, that is a conflict and it isn’t clean and it is a problem — and I would do it again.

—by Andy Barnes, editor and CEO, The St. Petersburg Times

The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times reported on their own sale under difficult circumstances.

There is an acid test for the owners of newspapers and broadcast stations.

That test is the accessibility of information when they and their companies are the story. From my personal and very disappointing experience, the sale of The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times, WHAS and the other Bingham-owned properties revealed that the owners put detailed news coverage low on their list of priorities.

After the sale had been announced and investment bankers had moved in to manage the process, discussion turned to a “gag order” which would prevent family members and top management from talking to any reporter about the sale. The gag order contained many ironies. The platoon of lawyers, representing various members of the family, was exempt! But no provision was made for an exemption to the order when a buyer for one of the properties was announced. In fact, the very announcement of a new owner would have been a violation of the order. I was finally able to change that and also obtain a grudging exemption for a Courier-Journal reporter who was writing a Sunday Magazine article. In the end one of the lawyers even tried to suppress that article.

The whole fiasco was a humiliating finale for a family which had made its fortune by collecting and distributing the news. But when it came to the sale of our own companies, the right of employees and the public to know what was going on was no longer a priority. When we were put to the test of permitting full news coverage of ourselves, we deserved a failing grade.

—by Barry Bingham, Jr., publisher of FineLine, former editor and publisher of The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times

For another view, see “Like any other story.”