Reuters, the news agency which bars its reporters from using the word “terrorist” in stories, is in turmoil following an e-mail from its global managing editor lamenting “terrible quality problems” at the wire service.
“Our content platform is burning,” wrote David Schlesinger in a memo intended for 10 senior managers, but was read by thousands of employees in the company’s daily briefing. “Our news is perceived as not having enough insight; our data is perceived as having terrible quality problems. Both news and data are not nearly the differentiating factors in Reuters’ offering that they should be, that they could be, that they need to be.”
The memo continued to say the group had a “web of inefficient and duplicative technology.”
After its initial distribution April 6, Schlesinger sent out a follow-up, stating, “Due to a misunderstanding, a note I wrote intended to stimulate discussion among a small group of colleagues was published for a short while on Daily Briefing.”
“We’re angry and perplexed,” one Reuters staffer told the New York Post. “We’re in the midst of contract negotiations, why would [Schlesinger] want to be telling the troops at this delicate time that they’re all doing a crappy job?”
The last pay increase at Reuters was in February 2002, and the Newspaper Guild has been working without a contract at Reuters since February 2003.
Some reporters are now calling for the ouster of Schlesinger. Yesterday, the National Union of Journalists passed a nearly unanimous motion stating: “This chapel believes that the note written by David Schlesinger … makes his position as global managing editor untenable. It’s particularly offensive for him to denigrate his staff at a time when Reuters journalists are risking their lives in many countries to provide outstanding coverage.”
A Reuters spokeswoman called the NUJ motion “ridiculous.”
Schlesinger himself told the Guardian newspaper in Britain that “quite a bit” of the reaction he received was “supportive.”
“They saw it for what it was, an attempt to provoke a small group of people … into thinking about how we should improve for the future,” he said.
He denied his comments denigrated Reuters, saying “We are very, very good in a number of the things we do … but we are certainly not perfect.”
One senior editor told FreelanceUK: “A lot of what he is saying is true. However, how it was expressed shows that the problems we have in our writing go right to the top.”
The London-based news agency which also has offices in New York’s Times Square came under fire shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. when it instituted a policy on labeling violent extremists.
Stephen Jukes, Reuters’ global head of news, decreed that the wire service’s 2,500 reporters shouldn’t use the word “terrorist” unless in a direct quote.
“We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist,” Jukes wrote in an internal memo. “To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack.”
Attempting to explain his values-neutral approach, Jukes added: “We’re trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it’s been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world.”
Schlesinger echoed those comments, telling the New York Times, “Our editorial policy is that we don’t use emotive words when labeling someone.”