Friday, April 08, 2005

No Experts Need Apply

In a major blow to people who know stuff everywhere, the dominant newspaper of the Twin Cities has been legally prohibited from allowing people with knowledge and expertise to write news articles for them.

It sounds absurd, but it's all true. From the pages of the professional journalists' guild newsletter, evidence of what happens when unions attack:

An arbitrator has upheld the Guild's grievance against management's use of freelance "experts" to write news stories for the A and B sections of the Star Tribune. The Guild filed the grievance a year ago after a story by [WCCO TV] meteorologist Paul Douglas appeared in the Metro Section. Subsequent stories by Douglas appeared on 1A. This is a significant and unambiguous victory for the Guild.

Victory for the union goes far beyond the mere chasing of the scourge of Paul Douglas weather commentary from the Metro section. Remember, their officially stated goal:

The union exists for one reason: Power.

Which doesn't leave a lot of room for readers who might prefer an article about meteorology to be written by a meteorologist. But, that's our problem, I guess. Instead, well get a union approved generalist hack with a journalism school degree - and like it!.

It's interesting to note the union's argument in defense of their membership. That is, the use of writers with actual expertise constitutes a radical departure from past precedent:

We did not dispute that Douglas was an expert. But we argued that experts had not previously been used to write news stories, and that such use violated the jurisdiction language of our contract. In other words, the company was outsourcing our work - news gathering and reporting to an expert.

Those bastards!

The arbitrator took testimony from the Guild officers, who reviewed 15 years and 4,000 freelance articles in the Star. During that period, only five (5) freelance stories by experts - all of them written by Douglas in the past year - appeared in the A or B sections.

Five out of 4,000 Star Tribune stories written by experts. Maybe that should be their new tag line?

For future reference, here are the new rules as set down by the arbitrator for articles in the Star Tribune:

"The parties are to follow the present practice of not using freelance expert news articles in the A Section of the Star Tribune or in any part of the B Section of the Star Tribune, except the weather page.

If circumstances arise wherein the Company proposes the placement of a freelance expert news article in either the A Section of the Star Tribune or a part of the B Section of the Star Tribune, other than the weather page, the company shall obtain from the Guild a consent prior to said placement."

Expected response for any such request by management:

The union exists for one reason: Power.

Too bad for the Star Tribune. But luckily, in this era of new media, the traditional gatekeepers are increasingly guarding an empty shell. Consumers of news and information can go elsewhere if they prefer expert commentary. Million dollar advice to Paul Douglas: start a weather blog. Given Minnesotans' well known obsession with all things humidity, wind chill, and "cover your tomatoes" related, it'll be a guaranteed sensation.

UPDATE: Mitch Berg emails in to inform us:

Douglas actually DOES have a weather blog, over at 'CCO.

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