Some members of the Newspaper Guild employed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom are taking exception to a recent magazine editorial blaming the paper's financial problems on them.
In the Winter 2007 edition of Pittsburgh Quarterly, a magazine that has featured P-G writers prominently from its debut last fall, publisher and former P-G business editor Douglas Heuck wrote that the paper's labor troubles were caused by "simply too many workers making collectively too much money. Too much that is for the revenues coming in."
"What upsets me about this is that this editorial puppets the company's position," says Guild president and P-G reporter Mike Bucsko. "[Heuck] says the problem is that too many of us are overpaid. I presume when he says that he refers to himself when he was here and his wife [Seen editor Marilyn Uricchio] who is here now."
As editors, neither Uricchio nor Heuck were members of the Guild. But Heuck's editorial came as the Guild and 13 other bargaining units commenced difficult contract renewal negotiations with P-G owner Block Communications Inc. Union contracts expire Dec. 31.
Bucsko says he finds it hard to believe that the Quarterly's audience has any interest in the newspaper's ongoing negotiations. (The current issue of the magazine features articles on local sports fandom, a portrait of native-born presidential hopeful Tom Vilsack and a piece on Frank Lloyd Wright.) Bucsko believes Heuck was simply "kissing the company's ass," adding: "He's like Eddie Haskell, the first one to step up and say, 'That's a very beautiful dress you're wearing, Mrs. Cleaver.'"
Bucsko claims that, at a time when Block Communications is losing money at the P-G (an estimated $20 million this year, the company says), they gave Heuck seed money to start up the Quarterly. Heuck, who founded the Quarterly, says he never received any seed money from Block.
However, according to an article in the June 5, 2004 edition of the Post-Gazette, Heuck would be stepping down by late August 2004 as P-G business editor to "develop a new project with the newspaper."
At the time, the paper declined to provide details of Heuck's new project. Heuck says today that the "final result of that research was the Quarterly." He also says he was paid by the Blocks until September 2005, but that no financial investment was made by the company in the magazine's startup. The first issue appeared in January 2006.
Calls to the P-G and to Block Communications about the funding question were not returned by press time.
As evidence that the large overlap between early Quarterly contributors and the P-G staff must have been OK'd by Block, Bucsko points to provisions in the P-G reporters' contract that prohibits them from working for "publications or radio or TV stations in direct competition with the Publisher. There will be no exceptions to these provisions except as set forth by the Publisher and on file in the Post-Gazette's Personnel folder of the affected employee or employees."
"[Heuck] taking the company's position makes no sense in that publication," Bucsko concludes. "It's nothing but hypocritical garbage."
Heuck maintains that his editorial was nothing more than a "straightforward analysis of what has happened at the newspaper." Many people are interested in the P-G labor situation because, he says, "To have a good community, you have to have good information. The Post-Gazette is the main source of that and people don't want to lose it."
He calls his viewpoint "just a broad, obvious mathematical conclusion that applies to both the cost and to the revenues. I think $20 million in losses is a very serious and obvious imbalance."
About the negative reaction from P-G staffers, he adds, "I think this is just a case where people are sensitive in any business when the writing and the reporting applies to them."
Heuck's past affiliation with the newspaper's management -- and his acceptance of a Block paycheck over the years -- doesn't give him a lot of credibility as an objective bystander, says P-G columnist Dennis Roddy.
"The editorial was simply out of place," Roddy says. "Seeing that editorial written by Doug Heuck makes me think what it would be like to hear the theory of evolution from a cow. Even if the theory is correct, the really crazy thing is who's doing the talking."