Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Strike Coverage

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Strike Coverage

Article excerpt

It's not surprising that Detroit's newspaper strikers would accuse the papers of unbalanced coverage.

"I don't think there's a dime's worth of difference between them," said Roger Kerson, a publicist for the unions. "They've turned their papers into house organs for management .... They've abandoned any pretense of balanced reporting."

What may be surprising, though, is that one of the papers, the Detroit News, sort of pleads guilty to that -- with an explanation.

Even more than the reporting of the rival Detroit Free Press, it is the News' coverage that infuriates strikers and their supporters, who accuse the paper of overemphasizing the labor dispute's sporadic violence and distorting the unions' role in it.

But News editor and publisher Robert H. Giles says the paper is only trying to balance the too-sympathetic coverage the strikers get from local broadcasters.

"We have covered the strike very aggressively and one of the things we have focused on is the violence," Giles said in a recent interview that was occasionally punctuated by the chants of strikers holding a rally below his office window.

"The unions, in our judgment, really have had a sort of platform to present their positions without any meaningful challenge .... To some extent, we feel the newspaper has to balance the story," Giles said.

For instance, Giles complained that the local National Public Radio outlet, WDET-FM, had until recently given a "very, very sympathetic treatment of violence that resulted from [strikers'] illegal actions."

"Early on in the strike, they took a very sympathetic position about the violence.... For a long time, they refused to suggest that by blocking the trucks trying to come in and out of Sterling Heights [production plant] or distribution centers, [strikers] were violating state law," Giles said.

"Oh, that's just bullshit, and you can quote me on that," said WDET-FM's news director, Roger Adams. "We've been round and round and round, me and Bob. We have included in every story the fact that by standing in front of gates, the strikers are violating state laws of egress and ingress into a business.

"We have never condoned violence and we point out that, yes, the strikers are violating laws . . . but then when 11 huge semis come barreling out of [newspaper plant] gates at 30 miles per hour with picketers two feet away -- yes, we'll say that is reckless and dangerous," referring to an incident this summer.

Union members, recalling the incident, cite what they say was reckless disregard for the safety of pickets blocking the gate, while management accounts emphasize the strikers' attempts to smash windows of the trucks as the convoy made its way out of the plant.

Adams said that the station's strike coverage has been balanced. "If you took all of our coverage in the aggregate, it's going to, in the final analysis, come out pretty close to [a] 50/50" mix of stories sympathetic to labor or management.

Giles argues local TV news has also taken a pro-union stance. Typically, he says, their reports concentrate on unchallenged comments from union officials or pickets. Frequently, no newspaper official is contacted for comment, he added.

"A lot just goes out live. There is no editing, no news judgment," Giles said. One TV reporter, he said, referred on-air to replacement workers as "scabs."

"About 30% of the people who work in this building are replacement workers" Giles said. "Yet they show film of anybody coming out and refer to them as `replacement workers.' "

Union spokesman Kerson says he sees no pro-labor bias in Detroit broadcast news: "Nobody gives us a free ride. …

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