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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Striking it rich, part 4

Newhouse takes 5 years to bust the union

The Portland newspaper strike officially lasted for five years, four months, and twenty-five days. It cost hundreds of employees their jobs and wrecked countless other lives. It also cost the city the independence of its afternoon paper. But nowhere was the strike's toll greater than at the Oregonian itself.

"The paper had a magnificent staff before the strike," recalled Wally Turner. "All across the board were top-drawer people, people who owned the town. Then, afterwards, the paper sank clear out of sight. It kept only those [reporters] who couldn't move on."

The list of Oregonian strike losses was stunning. Turner, for example, landed at the New York Times, which later made him chief of its West Coast Bureau. His sidekick, Bill Lambert, went to the Philadelphia Bulletin, where he was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize. Sportswriter Jack Rosenthal went on to become an editor of the Times's editorial page in and 1982 he, too, won a Pulitzer. Ed Jones became executive editor of the Wall Street Journal; Jack Bolter, news editor at CBS; John Dierdorff, a vice-president with McGraw-Hill; and Phil Hager, Supreme Court correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Many of the other landed at the Portland Reporter, one of the few decent strike newspapers ever published in America. It folded a few years later.

No paper could sustain such losses without serious harm to its editorial content, but once the strike ended, the Oregonian made little effort to find qualified replacements. Instead, it assured those reporters who crossed the picket lines during the strike that their jobs were secure.

Many residents of Portland and St. Louis came to believe that Newhouse had planned the newspaper strikes in their cities in advance, as part of a cold, calculated drive to smash the unions. Such a view gave him too much credit and, perhaps, not enough blame.

The strikes, especially the one in Portland, were horrible tragedies that no individual could have orchestrated. Their avoidance, however, was well within Newhouse's power. Instead, he helped his people prepare for the worst, thus assuring trouble; and when it occurred, he chose to let events run their course, knowing that, ultimately, he would be the beneficiary.

(© Richard H. Meeker, "Newspaperman", p.196-197)

Part 10 in a series, "Newhouses and labor unions"

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