CINCINNATI (TDB) -- There's a strongly worded sentence at the very end of this column in a certain large Ohio newspaper today that says journalists cannot contribute to political campaigns. But they do. The money flows indirectly through their union, the Newspaper Guild, which is an affiliate of the 750,000-member Communications Workers of America.
Almost all of the CWA's money goes to Democrats. The national Guild's recommended model contract -- which is not adopted or in force at every unionized newsroom -- actually contains language that calls for journalists to set aside a portion of their paychecks to support politicians.
"There shall be provision for payroll deduction of political contributions for employees who voluntarily authorize such deductions in writing."
Contrast that statement to the very last sentence in the column that appeared today in Cleveland: "You can't contribute to a political candidate and then write about his or her campaign, either as a paid employee or as a paid free-lancer for . . . on paper or online. Period."
Does that seem to suggest Guild members ought not be writing about U.S. Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Zack Space and Betty Sutton, three Ohioans who have gotten CWA money this election cycle? Does that imply there is a conflict of interest when journalists belong to a union that uses a percentage of its financial resources to fund campaigns?
Clearly there are opposing views about political activity and journalism, and management appears to be taking a harder line than labor, which favors allowing payroll deduction plans for political donations by reporters and editors. (Note: I don't know of any newspapers in Ohio that have such a payroll deduction plan.)
Not every newspaper in Ohio is covered by a Guild contract. Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown are the big dailies where journalists belong to the Newspaper Guild, along with the afternoon Cincinnati Post, which is scheduled to shut down at the end of next month. The Columbus Dispatch and Cincinnati Enquirer are non-union.