Newspaper Guild blasts Reuters’ Performance Improvement Plans

Letter to Romenesko

From A REUTERS JOURNALIST who asks not to be named: Reuters management has launched a push to supposedly help selected reporters improve their job performance through a legalistic process known as a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Reporters who are deemed to be laggards are handed a document that warns they could face termination if they don’t up their game, and given 30 days to turn things around.

So far, the process has forced out two respected journalists, and we fear more are on their way out the door. 29 reporters (out of a US Guild-represented pool of 460) in all have been targeted.

There are several problems with this:

1. It violates our contract, which says that the annual review process can’t be used for disciplinary purposes. Reporters who have gotten subpar performance reviews have been targeted with these PIPs.

2. It’s setting reporters up for failure. One correspondent was told that he doesn’t use enough pronouns in his writing when they couldn’t find anything else wrong with him. Another completed a requested feature, but editors have sat on it since mid-April. Other examples follow.

3. It’s creating a climate of fear and driving away good reporters. Glenn Somerville, our senior Treasury Department correspondent, announced he was leaving the company last week due to the PIP process. That prompted an outpouring of support from reporters in the Washington bureau, overseas bureaus, and from former Treasury officials like Tony Fratto (spox under George W. Bush) and colleagues at rival news organizations.

4. It’s overwhelmingly targeted older journalists, raising questions of age discrimination.

We in the Newspaper Guild are fighting this process as best we can, and we’ve filed legal actions on all known cases. I’ve enclosed a recent Newspaper Guild communique [below] that includes other examples of harassment and intimidation.

Guild ‘PIPs’ Thomson Reuters editors after wave of discipline
05/30/2012

Thomson Reuters Editorial management recently issued a wave of PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans) – 29 and counting – to Guild-represented journalists. In our review, we found that it is actually the performance of some of the front-line supervisors who issued the PIPs that needs improving.

This memo details the offenses, but not the offenders. We’re saving that information for the many arbitration hearings that lie ahead.

MEMORANDUM

Date: May 30, 2012

To: Individual Editorial Managers (you know who you are; we are withholding the names for now on the off-chance you discover some shred of common sense, integrity and honesty)

CC: Rob Doherty, General Manager, Karen Hamilton HR Business Partner

From: The Newspaper Guild of New York

Re: Poor Implementation of Management Performance

This is to notify you that your performance as an Editorial manager is not meeting expectations. Your own qualifications as a manager, as evidenced by your less than stellar supervision of the journalists who report to you, are dubious. It is plain you don’t understand the work our members do, nor what Thomson Reuters clients require./CONTINUES

The Guild urges you to improve your own performance as journalists and managers, instead of blindly following some edict laid down by senior managers who think the best way to improve performance is through a reign of terror.

PERFORMANCE AREAS REQUIRING IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENT:

– You fail to give promised guidance and feedback in a timely manner. When you do provide guidance, it is often vague. When a reporter returns with the story you requested, you deny having asked for it and say there “must have been a misunderstanding.” Similarly, you repeatedly move the performance goalposts you set for reporters, making it practically impossible to deliver the quality and/or the quantity of stories requested.

– You fail to edit reporters’ work in a timely fashion, putting Thomson Reuters behind the competition on some stories and allowing other stories to be overtaken by events.

– You criticize journalists for not cultivating new sources, but fail to let them attend, or limit their attendance at, events where they could make new contacts.

– You assign journalists to cover the day-to-day market coverage that Thomson Reuters clients require, and then fail to give these journalists time to focus on the special projects you say they must do to “improve their performance.”

– When editing and often significantly rewriting journalists’ copy you insert errors and then attempt to obfuscate them. You do this in your own reporting as well.

– You repeatedly violate company style guidelines on corrections, often in an attempt to obscure errors (see above). Your initial editing frequently reflects a lack of subject knowledge, an inability to structure stories and unfamiliarity with English usage and grammar.

– When you cannot find any other reason to criticize a Guild member’s performance, you resort to the absurdly petty, e.g., “You don’t use enough pronouns!”

– You use meaningless management-speak in advising Guild members how to improve, e.g., telling them repeatedly that they should be “plugged in,” as if they were toasters.

IMPACT OF PERFORMANCE ISSUES

You have helped senior management create a poisonous work environment at Thomson Reuters. At news bureaus across the United States, journalists – both those targeted and their Guild and non-Guild colleagues – are distracted by worry for their livelihoods, making it more difficult for them to actually do their jobs. Productivity and morale have plummeted, and clients have told us they notice the difference.

Your management is below the level demanded by journalistic ethics and expected by Thomson Reuters clients.

REQUIRED ACTION

As noted in numerous grievances filed against Thomson Reuters by the Guild, you need to rescind all Performance Improvement Plan notices and discipline issued against Guild members. If there are legitimate performance concerns with individual reporters, talk to them and coach them, but remove discipline from the equation, as required by our contract.

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