Page 12


Editor falls as Corpus reporters try to organize Austin The Newsroom Association, an independent union effort by reporters at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, is headed for a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Washington, D.C. Attorneys for the Harte-Hanks newspaper chain indicated they would appeal any ruling by the regional NLRB board, so the local hearing examiner decided to send the case directly to the highest NLRB authority in Washington. At stake is the Newsroom Association’s right to represent Caller-Times reporters in labor negotiations. Very few newsrooms are organized in Texas. Meanwhile, Caller-Times editor Gregory Favre has become the first casualty of the organizing effort. Favre, a newsman with a good progressive reputation, was brought in from Florida to edit the Corpus paper a year and a half ago. The scion of a Mississippi newspapering family, Favre had been editor of the West Palm Beach Post-Times, a member of the Cox newspaper chain. In 1972, he resigned rather than follow James Cox’s instructions to endorse Richard Nixon for President. From the Post-Times Favre went to a Miami television station and then to Corpus Christi. Reporters in Corpus were encouraged when publisher Edward M. Harte and the Harte-Hanks management in San Antonio hired Favre. By Texas standards, the Corpus paper is very good \(see Obs., It does a serious job of covering local events and it has a civilized editorial stance. \(One gets the impression that at the Caller-Times editorial writers are in touch with reality. At the very least, they are in touch with the papers’ reporters, which is not always the case on Texas newspapers. Selected reporters are invited to discuss and vote on editoAfter Favre ‘arrived, the Caller-Times got even better. He expanded the news staffs and allowed reporters the time they needed to do in-depth stories. Jim Davis had worked on a profile of Mayor Jason Luby for three weeks. A reportorial team was given three months to do a series about Mexican-Americans in Corpus Christi. “Until Greg came, we just wrote for a South Side audience. We never even tried to get chicano readers,” one reporter said. “The chicanos were pleased that the Caller 12 The Texas Observer cared for them under Favre.” Readership increased among young people and Mexican-Americans. The new editor set up an aggressive, independent Austin bureau. He livened up the graphics on both the morning and afternoon papers. And he moved toward making the Caller and Times separate, competing papers. \(The papers do not have separate facilities, but management contends that there is a “time wall” between the morning and afternoon functions. “It sounds vaguely “There. was a certain amount of excitement in the newsroom,” a source said. But although Favre brought a sense of progressive potential to the papers, he also brought discord. “He was a fairly abrasive influence,” a reporter said. Others called him “brilliant,” “arrogant,” and “ambitious.” \(No one at the paper would speak on the record. Reporters are notoriously goosey Favre apparently had trouble working with some reporters he inherited. He preferred the people he had hired, “my own people,” as he called them. More than one individual interviewed by the Observer remembered him as saying of a particular reporter, “I can’t work with him. I didn’t hire him.” Many people who were not in Favre’s favor felt neglected and ignored. He prided himself on his open door policy, but soon many staff members had stopped knocking on his door, because they felt he wouldn’t listen to them. Said one reporter, “Before he came, we had conservative but tolerant management. Under Favre, we had liberal intolerant management.” In retrospect, Favre said, “I had some different ideas on how the newspaper should be run, and I think a majority of the people in the newsroom accepted the changes. I apologize to anyone who thought I didn’t bring them along. Change is very difficult. I understand and accept that fact. But the changes we made were good.” Dissatisfaction over the way Favre and the sub-editors handled the staff reached such a depth this year that a group of the younger reporters decided to organize a union. “Everybody felt they wanted some representation,” explained one of the organizers. “They felt kind of powerless and left out of the process around here. They felt they had no place to take their grievances when they had grievances. Of course, people wanted to make more money, but I don’t think the money thing was the main part of it.” The organizing effort took management by surprise. Favre apparently had become so aloof from the staff that he was unaware of the morale problem. Management took an attitude survey and decided to offer up Favre as a sacrifice. When Favre resigned on Oct. 28, a news story written in the management offices explained that the “resignation was occasioned by differences in management style.” Staff members told the Observer that they had ambivalent feelings about Favre’s departure. But even those who had harbored great hopes for his editorship were not particularly unhappy to see him go. As for the organizing effort, a spokesperson said, “We wanted to get management’s attention and to feel like we have a voice around here. To some extent, that has already happened. We have already done some good. For one thing, Harte-Hanks has already started obeying wage and hour guidelines.” The chain has not yet selected Favre’s successor or successors. Some staffers fear that after one unsuccessful flirtation with a liberal editor the publisher may be tempted to return to conservative management. In the worst possible scenario as envisioned by some, the Harte-Hanks management, situated in San Antonio, will study the San Antonio Express News, a paper they sold a few years ago to Australian Rupert Murdoch, and adapt Murdoch’s successful formula of sex, scandal, car wrecks, crime, UFOs, and screaming headlines to the Corpus Christi readership. Corpus, after all, is 50 percent Mexican-American, and Favre has already gotten that community’s attention. Management says it will fight the union effort but fight it fairly. With Favre’s departure, at least one administrator should be improving his relationship with the staff. For many years, publisher Harte has written an editorial page column, usually at one of the typewriters in the newsroom. When Favre arrived, he banished Harte from the reporters’ turf, apparently on the basis that Favre didn’t want Harte undercutting his authority with the staff. So during Favre’s tenure, Harte wrote his column on a video display terminal in the classified ad office. When Favre resigned, iiarte was heard to say, “Well, now I can write my column in the newsroom.” K.N.