AP refuses to discuss quality journalism as part of grievance

The News Media Guild has closed a grievance involving a staffer who refused to talk with a business news editor who repeatedly inserted errors into his copy.

The grievance was closed after management snubbed Guild efforts to discuss the manager’s editing errors, saying it was not a topic for discussion. The staffer will enter a letter into his personnel file listing all the errors.

The union advised the staffer that he must not refuse to talk with the editor again. AP agreed staffers can go over an editor’s head to his or her boss when errors are inserted into their copy in the future rather than dealing with the manager inserting the errors.

The Guild is unaware of any discipline taken against the editor, who the AP said improved staffers’ copy. The reprimand for refusing to talk with his manager remains in the staffer’s file.

“We fail to see how refusing to discuss the editing mistakes supports quality journalism at The Associated Press and worry that this sort of work will undermine the AP’s journalistic credibility,” said Guild President Martha Waggoner.

The business news staffer had wanted to keep the discussion in writing – either email or text – so he could track the mistakes the supervisor was inserting into the story.

While the company wanted the grievance meeting to focus merely on the reprimand, which said the employee’s refusal to meet by phone was insubordinate, the Guild wanted to review the underlying issue of the supervisor’s performance.

The staffer provided the union with seven example stories that had many mistakes inserted by his manager, some of which got on the wire before they could be corrected. They were passed on to the company for review.

Another employee had complained earlier to a higher-level manager that the same supervisor inserted 22 errors into two stories she produced over two days. Most of those went out internationally under the reporter’s byline. When she complained to the supervisor that she had been embarrassed in front of her sources, the supervisor said the reporter was exaggerating.

The supervisor said repeatedly that such give-and-take exchanges in editing copy, including inserting errors, are healthy and part of the process. Both employees have had to drop whatever they were doing anytime one of their stories edited by that supervisor moved to see if new errors were inserted, regardless of their other pressing work.

The Guild said that only focusing on the staffer’s refusal to meet is unacceptable, but AP wouldn’t budge on the issue.

The employee who was reprimanded had declined to put his byline on the story after seeing the errors. He later decided to add his name because his concerns about the inserted errors were addressed.