An addendum, 15 years after the fact

In November, 1994, a few hours after the end of the San Francisco newspaper strike, I penned a piece ‘Walking on Fifth Street’ a reference to the sidewalk outside the San Francisco Examiner’s office that had been, only a dozen or so hours earlier, a battle zone that saw militant unionists facing off with Hearst-management hired ‘security’ staff. I was trying to give voice to some equivocal feelings, an in-progress, but never finished, essay, which has vanished into the Internet Mist.

In a number of web accounts I have been painted as a guy who crossed the picket line. I, did, in fact, do that, as did every other manager at all three struck entities – The Examiner, Chronicle and S.F. Newspaper Agency.

One, previously unpublished datum: In the summer of 1994, The Examiner sent the Newspaper Guild a letter announcing that I was being promoted to a management position, and I took up those duties, pending pro-forma Guild approval. I began making a business plan for the Electric Examiner and implementing it (much in the way I’d built the paper’s desktop publishing system). I was making budgets, assembling staffing plans, recruiting people, writing workflow code et al.

The strike, which was more ill-advised than most, caught everyone by surprise. Neither management nor the unions (the Newspaper Guild in my case) were prepared. The Guild was scrambling (as was management) to give legitimacy and/or credence to their position. Guild president Doug Cuthbertson, looking for an  early success (‘manager sides with Union’) in the then day-old strike, warned me that technically, until there was a new agreement, I was still a Guild member, and he didn’t need to allude to the unpleasantness that awaited me if I didn’t toe the line – I had previously helped prepare for 2 (thankfully averted) strikes at the LA Herald Examiner and knew the ‘goon drill’ that both sides were preparing (my management status was seemingly variable depending on context in the Guild’s view).

It was a difficult position, but I chose to stand with management, believing that ultimately the Electric Examiner would be part of a new industry and new jobs. Doug responded by distributing ‘Scab!’ flyers with my photo, home address and phone number etc.  Fellow Guild members may not have been aware of the details – the promotion had not been announced in the newsroom, pending Guild acknowledgment, as was protocol at that time. The union had, BTW, previously voiced no objection to the promotion.

So, yes, I crossed the picket line but I leave it to to others to decide whether that choice constituted ‘opting out’ of the Guild.

Equivocal feeling: my action hurt some people whom I think highly of – they thought I abandoned them in a bad spot.

Unequivocal feelings:

– the strike was horribly ill-advised, having more to do with out-of-control leadership in one of the trades, than any real grievance.

– I completely misunderstood what this new medium would do to newspapers. I saw it as the way forward. My much smarter boss, Will Hearst knew it was the beginning of the end (he resigned as Examiner publisher to go to work at Kleiner, Perkins as a VC shortly thereafter.)


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