Washington Post Staffers Criticize Double Standard On Raises

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Several Washington Post staffers, including a well-respected Pulitzer Prize-winner, are speaking out in support of a union request for the same 16.4% raise that Publisher Katharine Weymouth recently received.

Media Matters reported Friday that the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 900 Post staffers, requested the salary hike last week.

Post officials responded to the guild's request with a statement that avoided discussion of salary, but noted that the paper's circulation and print advertising revenue had fallen throughout Weymouth's tenure that began in 2008.

"Whatever the merits of Katharine's raise, people in the newsroom are working harder than ever before to make sure the Post survives," said Dana Priest, a two-time Pulitzer winner who has spent 23 years at the paper. "It is uncomfortable for people to read about [Weymouth's raise] because they have not been getting raises."

Guild leaders confirmed that many Guild members have gone up to three years without raises. Post officials declined to comment on staff pay, offering only a copy of the bulletin they issued last week, which stated:

While we know many Guild-covered employees are interested in the parties' wage proposals, we told the Guild that The Post was not prepared to make a wage proposal during the opening bargaining session, but would do so as negotiations progress.

We explained to the Guild that we need time to analyze the Guild's proposals in light of the business challenges facing the paper, to consider how realistically the Guild responds to The Post's key proposals, and to see what type of progress we can make on other economic and non-economic items before putting a wage proposal on the table.

We certainly have work to do in order to reach a new agreement. Today the Guild made many economic proposals that are unrealistic in today's business climate.

Fred Kunkle, an 11-year staff writer and co-chair of the Post Guild local, said the union understands the paper's financial problems. But he said it does not accept such an imbalance in salary increases.

"It is obviously unfair," he said of Weymouth's raise. "We appreciate very much that the Post is facing a difficult economic climate. But why should everybody in the rank-and-file, everyone in the newsroom, suffer for it and bear all of the hardship for it? We are willing to work with management and find a way to move the newspaper into the 21st Century. It can't be by us alone giving all of the sacrifices."

Meanwhile, several Post staffers objected to the raise for Weymouth, who is the niece of Washington Post Company chairman Donald Graham and the granddaughter of former Post publisher and chairman Katharine Graham. Most requested anonymity, fearing reprisals from management.

"Obviously, we'd like the same raise. It doesn't look good when she gets one," said one veteran newsroom staffer. "We understand there are all these financial problems. It doesn't look good, it looks bad. It makes you wonder, it is not something you'd expect her uncle to do."

Another Post newsroom staffer said Weymouth deserves credit for stemming losses, but said the paper has taken a hit in other ways under her.

"On the one hand, the paper went from losing tons of millions of dollars to making a small profit last year. And in any business, you reward a publisher for that," the staffer, who requested anonymity, said. "On the other hand, they did it by shrinking the staff, shrinking the news hole, closing bureaus and diminishing the journalism. There is a lot of unhappiness about that.

"The other negative side about this is there is just a feeling that the commitment to transparent, ideal-driven management has been lessened under her. That is what really bothers a lot of people. The commitment to good communication in the newsroom, loyalty to the staff, commitment to great journalism has eroded a bit."

One reporter said that asking for the same raise as the publisher is a matter of fairness.

"It is more than fair. I think we should be compensated in the same manner she was," the reporter said. "Especially when 60% of folks around here haven't received raises since 2008. It is a morale issue here and as a leader of this paper it sets a bad example to take that kind of raise. If that is the example, everyone else should be compensated the same."

Added another long-time Post writer:

"The optics aren't good in terms of taking a large increase at a time when a lot is being requested of employees, working longer hours and no prospects of getting more [money]. There has been a lot of heartache about management style, there has been a corporatization of the place."

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