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D-11 unionization push stalls out

The District 11 school board still refuses to acknowledge attempts by bus drivers to unionize ("D-11 board accused of stonewalling union bid," March 30).

The drivers have been petitioning the board since October of 1999 for permission to vote on forming an independent local in the Amalgamated Transit Union. But because they are D-11 employees, they can't vote on forming a union without formal permission from the school board.

"It's in the drivers' court now," said Paul Church, organizing chairman of ATU Local 19. "The only way the drivers are going to be taken seriously is if they take a job action."

The problem with that, said Church, is that "The D-11 drivers aren't a real rabble-rousing bunch. Most of them definitely want the union, but only 35-40 of them are willing to put their jobs at risk by taking an action."

"The school board is totally blowing the drivers off," said Church. "They won't give them the dignity of an explanation or even a 'Yes' or a 'No.' I can see why they're having such a communication problem in District 11."

Church said things are at a standstill until the fall. "The job market is booming for drivers now," he said. "They need the drivers. We'll see what the drivers want to do after school starts again."

D-11 board president Lyman Kaiser said the board isn't likely to take a formal vote, or even put the item on a meeting agenda, until after the mill levy vote in November.

"We've had some discussions on the issue," he said, "but we're not going to vote. In essence, we're saying that we don't want to deal with it until at least November."

Public Eye raises ire and questions

In last week's Public Eye (July 20), Cara DeGette reported on salon.com Washington Bureau Chief Kerry Lauerman's complaints that the Gazette's Warren Epstein had failed to give him credit for breaking a story on Focus on the Family's influence over industry giant Procter & Gamble.

In e-mails to the Independent, Lauerman angrily complained that Epstein's story, which appeared in the July 2 Gazette, was essentially a retelling of a story that ran on salon.com on June 20, for which he was not credited. Epstein localized the story by contacting a Focus on the Family spokesperson and adding some interview material.

Lauerman wrote Gazette editors asking for a correction and an apology, and on July 6, Epstein ran this addendum at the end of his column: "My recent story about Focus on the Family's meeting with Procter & Gamble that led to the corporate giant pulling its ads from two MTV shows was actually a follow-up on a report by salon.com."

However, following the Independent's story on the snafu, Epstein demanded a complete retraction and a public apology, and insisted that the story did not require attribution to Lauerman or salon.com. In Epstein's view, such attribution is a "professional courtesy" proferred by one reporter to another, not an industry standard.

In an e-mail to the Independent, Epstein cited notes from a telephone conversation with Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute, a national consultant on journalism ethics. Epstein asked if it's common practice to give credit in cases in which the story came from another source but the reporter went back and did his own reporting. Steele replied that "It is rare to give credit ... in the age of dotcoms ... when more people are getting access to what other people are reporting." He went on to say "it's reasonable, where possible, to give credit where credit is due."

In fact, that very issue was at the center of our decision to run the column based on Lauerman's complaints. In a dotcom world, it could be argued, reporters might be inspired to be even more vigilant about attributing sources since it's difficult to confirm the reliability of information, and because information is funneled through so many different mediums.

For a particularly egregious teaser that ran on our Web site and has since been pulled, Epstein indeed deserves an apology and the Independent hereby offers one.

However, we stand by the content of the column. Just because attribution is not commonly practiced, according to some industry sources, that doesn't mean it should be dismissed as an ethical and practical journalistic standard.

Media columns like ours, and like Epstein's in the Gazette, should serve as forums for precisely these kinds of issues in the fast changing world of journalism.

-- Ed.


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