When the news broke that three Ann Arbor News editors — top editor Ed Petykiewicz, Sports Editor Jim Knight and sports copy editor Dave Holzman — worked in place of striking workers at the Youngstown Vindicator, an Ohio newspaper, former Ann Arbor News reporter Jeff Mortimer was not surprised for long. He said the move was typical of the newspaper’s anti-union attitude. Other former employees echoed his sentiment adding that under Petykiewicz, the newsroom environment was hostile and uncomfortable. “I have never seen any place that was as viciously anti-union as the Ann Arbor News,” said a former Ann Arbor News reporter who wished to remain anonymous. The reporter, who said he was fired without explanation after working at the News for 16 years under both Petykiewicz and his predeccessor Brian Malone, said the hiring of Petykiewicz in 1988 was an attempt to limit the power of reporters. Petykiewicz did not return The Michigan Daily’s telephone calls, and publisher David Sharp was unavailable for comment. Entertainment editor Bob Needham refused to comment, and several other section editors did not return calls.A member of Newhouse Newspapers, the paper is not currently one of the members of the Newspaper Guild, an organization that protects the rights of newspaper employees.“Between the U.S. and Canada we have about 300 contracts, everything from small suburban weeklies to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal — but the Ann Arbor News is not one of them,” said Carrie Biggs-Adams, a guild representative. Employees have made several attempts at unionization but all were swiftly squashed, Mortimer said. “The management was very crafty in (avoiding unionization),” he added.Former Ann Arbor News writer John Beckett, who worked at the paper for 18 years under Petykiewicz and Malone, said there was some discussion of unionization but that employees were paid well and given relatively liberal vacation time. But Beckett criticized the management’s treatment of its staff or its editorial philosophy during Petykiewicz’s tenure. “We spent a lot of time going after angles generated from management instead of actually getting out and seeing what was going on,” Beckett said. “Directives were coming from the top and there was less input in feedback from reporters.” Mortimer also left the Ann Arbor News two years after head editor Malone was replaced by Petykiewicz. Mortimer said the change in the newsroom after Petykiewicz’s hiring was not the only reason he left but named it as a factor. “The narrative in the newsroom was that the reason the editor had been brought in was to get us into line — to make us good little corporate cogs,” Mortimer said. Mortimer said Petykiewicz was hired because the management believed the old editor was too sympathetic to the employees, granting them too much power. “The corporate perception was that the inmates were running the asylum,” he said. “(Petykiewicz’s) job was to shape us up or ship us out. That was the first time I heard the phrase, ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves.’”According to the reporter, Petykiewicz’s arrival frightened the employees because they feared they might be fired.“It was like a morgue in there,” he said. “People were so afraid — they were afraid for their working conditions, they were afraid for their jobs. And they turned out to be right.” The result, Mortimer said, was a “drove of employees leaving.”Mortimer added that the editor of a newspaper often finds himself in a difficult position when forced to take a side in a conflict between reporters and management because he spends his days in the newsroom but is a part of management. Unlike Petykiewicz, Mortimer said, Malone was approachable and supportive of reporters. Employees often felt intimidated by Petykiewicz, Beckett said. They were unwilling to approach him with their opinions on editorial policy. “It was a more reporter-friendly place before (Petykiewicz) got there,” Beckett said. “The reporters felt more valued and showed more initiative.”Management would find what they believed to be an important story and then continue to report on it even after it was newsworthy, he said. “When there was a big story, there was a tendency to beat the living shit out of it,” Beckett added. “We would ride that horse for days and days until it dropped. Then we would keep riding.” Beckett said the change in the company’s dress code following Petykiewicz’s hiring illustrated the difference between the Malone era and the Petykiewicz era. “We pretty much all wore jeans (under Malone),” Beckett said. “It was relaxed and comfortable. I thought we put out a hell of a paper. When Petykiewicz came in, the jeans went out the door. Reporters and section editors were looking over their shoulders and second-guessing themselves.”Since 1988, Beckett said, the quality of the paper has plummeted — despite an abundance of strong reporters — because of a lack of things such as investigative journalism.“I think it’s more superficial,” he said. According to several former employees, management was controlling even before Petykiewicz. The employees cited the example of editorial board votes over which candidate to endorse in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections. On both occasions, the board voted overwhelmingly to endorse President Ronald Reagan’s Democratic opponents — by votes as high as 7-1 — but management decided to endorse Reagan. The single vote against the Democratic candidate in 1984, Mortimer said, was the publisher’s. Mortimer said many former News employees suspect that Knight, Petykiewicz and Holzman were ordered by the paper’s management to break the Vindicator’s picket line. “There are some people who say that this was not (Petykiewicz’s idea),” Mortimer said. “But I know he’s perfectly low enough to do this on his own without any prodding.”

Chelsea Trull
A car and pedestrian pass by the Ann Arbor News building. (Tommaso Gomez/Daily)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *