‘Rigged appraisal system’ at Reuters gets veteran copy editor fired

Earlier this year, Reuters management gave Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) to 29 journalists that it believes are “laggards”; they face dismissal if bosses don’t see enough improvement in 30 days. The PIP program has “overwhelmingly targeted older journalists,” a Romenesko reader wrote in May. “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.”

Late last month, veteran Reuters copy editor and PIP target John Picinich was fired after failing to satisfy his bosses. Here’s the email (with some personal information deleted) he sent to friends, reprinted with his permission.

Greetings:

Please forgive the impersonal email but I’m really not one for talking on the phone a lot. And I’ve been fielding quite a few calls from my comrades over the past week.

The company sacked, canned, gave me the boot last Monday (Aug. 20). I was one of 28 Guild members targeted by the company this year for disciplinary action. We all had long-standing service, me from 1985. A rigged
appraisal system led to us all getting “did not meet objectives” and, as a result, we were put into a Performance Improvement Program in which every week we had to show examples of our work, prove we were up
to standard. And of course many of us “failed” to meet the PIP. This violated our Union contract which states that these appraisals cannot be used for discipline.

We have individually filed age discrimination complaints with the EEOC against the company. I met an agent on Friday and after he checked his computer he said “There are a LOT of you” and told me the EEOC was planning a class action suit against the company as all of us are over the age of 40. Why the Guild, our union, has not filed a class action suit is beyond me (the agent himself was flabbergasted) but I imagine the Union cannot afford a high-priced lawyer because the industry and Guild membership is shrinking.

Whatever the case, tis not the end of the world. The company gave me 52 weeks severance pay, doled out every other week like a paycheck; in a sense paying me NOT to show up at what has become a toxic newsroom. I can do this.

A year ago an outsider was hired as Editor-in-Chief and proceeded to bring in all his cronies from the Wall St Journal and BizWeek. Layers were added to management. We on the copy desk got two extra layers there. And these managers have NO wire experience, much less conception of what wire is. So of course there will be cuts, and Guild people will be replaced by lower-pay-grade Guild members. Not to mention outsourcing news stories to Bangalore. And not to mention continued attacks on the Guild. And sadly, the Union has been declawed in past few contract negotiations. We can’t even go on strike without getting fired because the current contract has a no strike clause. And now we know why. I voted against that contract but it did pass.

* Newspaper Guild blasts Reuters’ PIP program (jimromenesko.com)

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