News Associations File Brief in N.H. Newspaper's Appeal

Article excerpt

JOURNALISM TODAY JUST isn't the same as it was 40 years ago, and a group of media associations filing a friend of the court brief in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor case are using that fact to bolster their argument.

The Monitor is appealing a district court's decision that reporters and photographers are not considered professionals under the overtime regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The case began in 1981, when the Department of Labor said the newspaper owed six months of overtime pay to a group of reporters, editors and news photographers.

The Monitor argued that those staffers were exempt from federal overtime regulations because they were professionals, who not get overtime pay.

After seven years, the court issued a decision, finding that none of the 10 reporters or two photographers was a professional under the law. The court ruled that the newspaper owed them nearly $21,000 in overtime pay (E&P, Nov. 13, 1993, p. 26).

Filing the amici curiae brief in support of the Monitor's appeal were the Newspaper Association of America, National Newspaper Association, American Society of Newspaper Editors and National Association of Broadcasters. They noted, "The 1943 conception of journalism, which was adopted without analysis by the District Court, if ever valid, ceased to be so decades ago.

"Modern reporters are not semieducated characters from Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page, who work only as directed by senior editors; who either write (to formula) or report, but not both; and who exercise little initiative and pass many hours playing cards.

"Modern journalists, on the contrary, are expected to live by their wits; to find their own sources and dig out stories; to go and come as they please, depending on the needs of the story; to exercise their own judgment and discretion in what stories to cover and how to cover them; to write with style and sophistication; and to adhere to well-recognized professional standards in their conduct," the brief stated.

The brief urged the court to make clear that the "professional character of modern journalists is to be judged according to the single applicable regulation and the actual duties they as individuals perform, which are clearly professional in nature, and not according to an obsolete agency interpretation written to describe newsrooms of a long-vanished era. …