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American Journalism Review
You're So Money  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   June 1997

You're So Money   

L.A. Times staffers complain about the paper's salary and raise policies

By Unknown
     



Los Angeles Times Editor Shelby Coffey III heads off a potential staff revolt after receiving a six-page letter, signed by 108 newsroom staffers, complaining about the paper's salary and raise policies. Inspired by rumors leaked throughout the newsroom of a Times reporter who had been wooed by Microsoft with a huge salary offer but then was convinced to stay by an even huger Times counteroffer, the letter details staff frustration with "continuing evidence that [employees'] value in the eyes of management exists largely in relation to their perceived worth to other news organizations," and a pervasive feeling among staffers that they are "undervalued, disposable commodities." A few days after receiving the letter, Coffey issued a statement saying he "agree[d] wholeheartedly that we have to do more to reward those whose excellence and loyalty, staying in place, make the Times one of the world's great newspapers." He also announced that the Times would set up a fund of "well over $150,000 a year" to reinstitute mid-year raises that had been eliminated during the recession, and would add to that stock option grants worth over $200,000 to be meted out "for pure merit, not dependent on position change." Coffey also informed staffers that the paper's human resources department would begin intensive salary comparisons between the Times and other major dailies to "insure that the compensation of our editorial staff remains strongly competitive." Special reporter Henry Weinstein, one of the chief instigators of the letter, says he is generally satisfied with the way the mini-mutiny played out. "The fact that there was such a rapid response has to be taken objectively as an indication that we had made some sort of case that was deemed to have merit," Weinstein says. "Employees should have some inherent performance value rather than mere market value." Assistant Metro Editor Bob Baker, who also signed the letter, says he too feels "temporary satisfaction." "Some felt the letter was over the top, and some felt it didn't go far enough," he says. "But in general it was looked upon as a gesture of appropriate righteous indignation to an outrage that required response." Coffey, for his part, says he's glad that employees feel free to initiate discussion about personnel matters, and both Weinstein and Baker acknowledge that the atmosphere at the Times is one that is open to such discussion without fear of reprisal. "There has to be a continuous dialogue," Coffey says. "There's lots of different issues that we're always trying to manage and work on and improve, and this is just one of them."

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