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Tribune staff calls editorial ‘embarrassing’

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Tuesday August 21, 2001

East Bay Pride, an Oakland-based organization advocating for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, was not alone expressing outrage at an Aug. 14 Oakland Tribune editorial calling Councilmember Kriss Worthington despicable and a coward and calling the gay council member a single-issue politician. 

The Oakland Tribune news staff got together to condemn the piece. “We were embarrassed by that thing,” said Sean Holstege, The Tribune’s transportation writer and union representative. “We as a group think that this was reckless. This whole Kriss Worthington thing (shows that the paper’s management is) out of touch with its readers.” 

The editorial was even more insulting to the newsroom staff because the reporters, currently working without a contract, are in labor negotiations on related issues, Holstege said.  

Part of what staff wants is an agreement to promote diversity in the newsroom. They also want domestic partner benefits. 

Holstege described the diversity demand as a “mom and apple pie” issue, but accused managers of stalling on the question, alleging they did not want to put teeth into a clause in the contract by allowing grievances to be filed over it.  

They’ve been stuck on this question, unable to get to the issue of domestic partners, he said.  

The issue of the editorial, deemed anti-gay by many, and the bid for better working conditions – including a salary increase great enough so that people can afford to live in the area – is related, Holstege said. “We live here. We work here. We are the community.” 

Tribune Editor Mario Dianda said that once he learned that the reporters were unhappy about the editorial, he sat down with them. “We had a little staff meeting and acknowledged that we may have been too harsh,” he said.  

He went on to say, however, that the paper would not take positions based on popular views held by the community or of its newsroom staff. “Editorials are sometimes not supposed to please everybody,” he said. “They’re not a barometer.” 

Rather, they reflect leadership, he said, noting, on the other hand, that the paper’s endorsement of Al Gore was probably reflective of the community. 

Dianda said the newsroom staff had not linked up the bargaining issues with the Aug. 14 editorial in their discussions with him and hesitated to go into issues being negotiated at the table. 

He did say, however that “We try to reflect diversity in the newsroom staff.” He said the paper was moving toward its goal, but had not reached it in terms of diversity. The paper’s supportive of the principal. “It’s the way it’s worded in the proposal” that is objectionable. 

Responding to the reporters’ stand against the editorial, Worthington said: “I think it’s commendable that they think about the integrity of the public they work for. It sends an added message to the broader community that they are not in agreement with the extremism that was perceived as an attack on me and on the gay community.” 

Holstege added that there have been fliers circulated in the community calling for a boycott of The Oakland Tribune, but the reporters do not support that action.