Contract Ruling May Embolden Reporters to Donate to Political Campaigns

Joel Thurtell photo via his Web site | NewsBusters.orgStaffers for the Detroit Free Press are now in the clear when it comes to cutting campaign contributions for politicians, reports, the Web site for The Newspaper Guild, a print journalists union. (h/t Business & Media Institute's Dan Gainor; emphasis mine):

An arbitrator's decision voiding a Detroit Free Press ban on political contributions by editorial employees has implications for other publishers attempting to control what their employees can do off the job-provided those employees are protected by an appropriately worded collective bargaining agreement.

In his May 27 decision, arbitrator Paul E. Glendon ruled that the Free Press cannot ban any particular activity of its editorial employees without documenting that the activity is compromising the paper or the employees' work. Without such documentation, Glendon wrote, the company could not justify its "unilateral incursion" against contractual safeguards.

The contractual provision on which the Detroit Guild's grievance hinged reads: "There shall be no limitation upon the outside activities of any person employed by the Free Press, except that no such person shall engage in any activity that compromises the integrity of the newspaper."

At issue was a $500 contribution made in 2004 by Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell to the Michigan Democratic Party Central Committee.

The article went on to note that the arbitrator found that since there was no evidence any readers complained, the Free Press didn't make it's case for banning political contributions and hence the ban was "set aside and declared null and void."

Of course, the lack of complaints might say more about the helplessness many readers feel about liberal media outlets taking seriously their claims of bias. All the same, the issue should not be the lack of public complaint but the journalistic integrity that is compromised when a reporter donates money to a candidate or party that he may be called upon to objectively cover in a news story.

Thurtell retired in 2007 from the Detroit Free Press.

Photo of Thurtell via his Web page,

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.