This story falls under my belief that I'd rather have a writer expose his or her bias than hide it. To do so does away with the charade that they don't have a bias and then to the reader it's caveat emptor. I spotted this story from Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Silverstein about Monday night's Packers/Seahawks debacle, in which Silverstein refers to replacement officials as "scabs.". I blogged on this and began a series of emails with the JS as to whether this was allowed. This produced a rather enlightening series of responses.
The first came from Bill Windler:
Thanks for the inquiry.
I'm the senior editor / sports, which is a fancy way of saying I'm the second banana in the department, and I was the person who edited Bob's game analysis that night
That word did cause me pause, as it should, on Monday night, even in the scramble of the late-night game. It certainly is a pejorative in describing the current group of referees.
I nearly changed it to replacement refs but finally decided to leave it. I think what swayed me was the analysis label on Bob's story and his logo. There is almost always a strong element of informed opinion in that space.
Had it been a straight news story, I certainly would have changed it.
I can't really say that I felt great about it or that I'd do it again; I can just explain my reasoning when I first read it Monday night.
Thanks again for the question and caring so much about the impact of words. As we know, they are very important.
It was apparent to me that Windler thought I was referring to an analysis piece by Bob McGinn so I sent him the link to the Silverstein piece, which elicited this response:
I strongly prefer that we not use it news stories.
I though you were referring to Bob McGinn's Packers story in Tuesday's editions.
Thanks for passing that along.
So, I asked Windler what "strongly prefer" means, and got this:
I intend to remind the staff not to use it in a news story or newsy blog item.
So, in pieces that are analysis or opinion, but not "newsy" it's okay to use a pejorative. Hum, what if a writer for the Journal Sentinel used the term for someone who crosses the Rio Grande that got a Milwaukee talk show host suspended for a week in an opinion piece. Would that be acceptable? What about the "n" word in an opinion or analysis piece that isn't a "newsy" piece. Would that be accepted?
So, I thought the above paragraph was where this post was going to end. But it doesn't. I had forgotten that I actually reached out to the reporter in question here, Tom Silverstein. This evening he responded. His response is revealing and refreshing in its honesty:
Thanks for writing.
I have been told by my manager not to use the word scab anymore, so in
the interest of staying employed I won't.
But I think you answered your own question about whether they are scabs.
In this day and age, strikes are less common than lockouts. It's
somewhat of a comment on the weakness of unions nowadays. But we're
really talking about a work stoppage. Many unions have evergreen
clauses that allow the employees to continue working while a contract
is negotiated. The officials obviously didn't.
But getting back to your question, these are scabs because they were
trained in anticipation of a work stoppage. They were trained
specifically to give the NFL an advantage in bargaining, which is
really what scabs are used for in the long run. They allow the company
to say, we can survive without you so you better take our offer. Thus,
these guys are affecting the ability of the officials to negotiate a
Thus, I view them as scabs. But I won't be using that term in the JS anymore.
So, he believes he should be able to call them scabs, but he won't for fear of losing his job. This is the same term Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton apologized for using four and a half years ago. Tom, I consider them people who took an opportunity they were given. Unfortunately for them, they lacked the skills to take full advantage of that opportunity and were put in a position to fail. But people who take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself, regardless of the motive for the employer providing that opportunity, don't deserve your scorn. Because of this blog post some people will now know your bias. I'm glad your response to me exposes it, but it's almost a shame your employer won't allow you to display it on a regular basis any longer. Caveat emptor.