NMG members discuss staffing, workload concerns with AP at bargaining table

News Media Guild members told the Associated Press on Wednesday that its current staffing levels combined with unrealistic production standards have created a situation that it is unsustainable.

Jill Bleed, a breaking news staffer in Little Rock, Ark., and Vicki Smith, a solo correspondent in Morgantown, W.Va., joined Guild negotiators at the table to share workers’ concerns about workloads and staffing.

Bleed, who’s responsible for reports in Arkansas and Oklahoma, said bureaus have been told that rewritten member stories have more value than bylined stories. This, she said, “is a huge step back for staffers who take seriously what they do and care about their work.”

Vicki Smith, correspondent in Morgantown, W.Va., Guild administrator Kevin Keane, Jill Bleed, breaking news staffer in Little Rock, Ark., and NMG President Martha Waggoner meet with the AP on Aug. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C., to discuss staffing and workload concerns.  Photo by Don Ryan.

Vicki Smith, correspondent in Morgantown, W.Va., Guild administrator Kevin Keane, Jill Bleed, breaking news staffer in Little Rock, Ark., and NMG President Martha Waggoner meet with the AP on Aug. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C., to discuss staffing and workload concerns. Photo by Don Ryan.

The production standards, which tell staffers how many short stories, mid-length stories, longer stories and bylined stories they should produce each day, have staffers asking if they should assign someone to cover a story or wait to pick it up from a member, she said.

Smith told the AP that she’s the only full-time reporter in West Virginia and that a recent resignation has left the state house unstaffed. The situation could hurt the credibility and reputation of the AP, she said.

She shared the concern of a regional desk staffer who said she once edited 34 bylined stories in an eight-hour shift. If the editor never took the break, that gave her 14 minutes to edit each story.

The AP said it hoped that Smith and Bleed would help solve the short-staffing issue by supporting the AP’s forced transfer proposal, which would allow the company to move a staffer with seniority from one bureau to another to fill a vacancy.

The company also said that its proposal to reduce severance would allow it to hire more people.

The AP also said that the company is in a period of transition and trying to determine how to fill the changing needs of members and clients. Managers already are discussing some of the issues that Smith and Bleed mentioned, the AP said.

The two sides, meeting in Washington, D.C., also discussed the ethics, social media and use of business operating policies, along with some legal issues. The Guild was holding a unit meeting in Washington, D.C., later Wednesday.

The two sides are bargaining again Thursday, when they’ll discuss Invision, an entertainment photo company in which the AP has a majority ownership.