1 Herald Plaza

In late August the news staff of El Nuevo Herald filled out an employee survey, conducted every three years by Knight-Ridder, Inc., at each of its 29 dailies. The poll is designed to measure employee satisfaction and to seek solutions to problems. Results gathered from El Nuevo's news staff of more than 90 people were presented at a September 22 staff meeting. Top brass apparently thought better of putting anything in writing for distribution (and possible leakage) and instead opted for fleeting glimpses on a projection screen. The numbers as reported by several staffers: low on satisfaction and high on problems, in particular with editor Carlos Verdecia.

Verdecia initially agreed to verify those figures but then changed his mind. "I've been reflecting on this question of numbers," he said, "and I've decided that I'm not going to confirm [the survey results] because this is not a question of numbers. This is about a company trying to measure employees' feelings about it and to make things better." To that end a series of departmental meetings began the following week, led by Verdecia and Miami Herald publisher Dave Lawrence. Among the major gripes: low pay and alleged favoritism.

Although the Herald uses a list of job descriptions and wage scales to calculate employee salaries, El Nuevo does not. The result, say El Nuevo sources, is that many of them receive pay substantially lower than that of their Herald counterparts.

Favoritism by management is obviously harder to prove, but Verdecia says he is determined to address what he calls a perceived problem. "If you ask me if I have practiced favoritism, I would say absolutely not," he asserts. "If you ask me if there is a perception of favoritism among some of the staff, I would say yeah, sure. And we are going to work very hard to change that perception through better communication."

An example of that improved communication was provided this past Wednesday during another meeting of the news staff -- by none other than Dave Lawrence himself. Three sources at the gathering independently confirm that Lawrence announced to the crowd that New Times had been calling Verdecia regarding the survey. "As you know, New Times wants to destroy this paper," the publisher reportedly warned, "and we're just not going to allow that to happen."

In an interview the following day, Lawrence gruffly denied making the comment. "If you're in the journalism business," he intoned without irony, "you should know that just because two people tell you I said it doesn't mean I did."

Lawrence's contention that you can't believe what El Nuevo staffers say raises some interesting questions. Among them: Can you believe what they write? A September 20 article appearing in both El Nuevo and the Herald offers a clue.

The Herald's version of the story appeared in the left-hand column of the paper's front page. Written by Herald reporters Christopher Marquis and Alfonso Chardy, it described the Cuban American National Foundation's loss of influence at the White House. The headline accurately captured the story's essence: "Foundation Loses Clout in Washington." Marquis and Chardy wrote: "Today, eight months into the Democratic administration of President Clinton, and amid deepening turmoil in Cuba, the Foundation has lost its breezy access in Washington."

As often happens with Herald articles concerning Miami's Cuban community, the story was published that same day in El Nuevo. The headline, however, lost something in translation. Bannered across the top of El Nuevo's front page was this: "Clinton mantiene relaci centsn cordial con la Fundaci centsn" ("Clinton maintains cordial relations with the Foundation").

The paper's headline writer, digging frantically for a pro-Foundation nugget, didn't hit pay dirt until the eighteenth paragraph, following a section about presidential slights endured by Foundation chairman Jorge Mas Canosa. "Nevertheless," began the precious passage, "Clinton maintains cordial relations with the Foundation." Eureka!

Knight-Ridder has won plaudits nationwide for hiring practices that emphasize opportunities for women and racial minorities. But that hasn't immunized the company from lawsuits, as witnessed by two former employees whose discrimination suits -- after two years of waiting and maneuvering -- are scheduled for trial next month.

Charles Greggs had worked in the Herald mailroom for sixteen years when, in the fall of 1989, he applied for a supervisory position. Another mailroom employee was promoted instead, and Greggs was convinced he'd been passed over because he is black. In November 1989, he filed a charge of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Three months later, according to court records, the mailroom manager fired Greggs for "gross misconduct." The motivating incident was a confrontation with a female co-worker, in which Greggs allegedly threatened and grabbed her. (She later testified he neither touched nor threatened her.)

Though the mailroom manager and other mailroom supervisors deny the firing was prompted by Greggs's complaint to the EEOC, the commission concluded otherwise, and in October 1991 it filed suit in federal court against Knight-Ridder, claiming Greggs's termination was an act of retaliation.

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