Gannett warning to police about the NUJ ends in friendly chat
Chris and Amy with Lt Timothy W. Field - © Private
20 May 2019
Last week NUJ representatives travelled to Washington DC to attend the US media giant Gannett's general meeting. Before the event, Chris Morley, the NUJ's Newsquest coordinator, received an email out of the blue to his personal email address from a local police chief. It said:
"I am one of the police commanders for the McLean area and understand that you will be protesting at the Gannett Building … In the interest of making sure we protect your group’s First Amendment right to protest I wondered if it would be possible for us to meet and discuss the matter?"
In a follow-up conversation it transpired that Gannett had contacted police as they believed there may be a protest of up to 150 people being organised at their headquarters on the day of the meeting. However the company had no basis to believe this beyond having an application from Chris Morley for admission to event linked to his ownership of five Gannett shares. Both Chris and NUJ rep Amy Fenton wanted to attend the meeting to make sure UK journalists were not forgotten by Gannett and to highlight Newsquest's low pay rates in front of the Gannett board.
Although there was not the time to meet the police officers request, Lt Timothy W. Field, the Assistant Commander of the McLean District Station of Fairfax County Police Department was very keen and he decided to visit Chris and Amy at their hotel, he treated them to a chilled drink and interesting chat at the local Chick-fil-A outlet.
Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ group coordinator, said:
"It was a huge and perplexing surprise for me to be contacted by US police to my personal email account in the belief that I would be leading a protest of up to 150 people, when in fact all I was intending on doing was attending the Gannett AGM to ask a question and make points on behalf of hard-pressed Newsquest journalists.
"It has been 15 years since the NUJ last attended the Gannett AGM and I told the board and shareholders that we were doing so because the situation on pay – after no cost of living rise for nine out of 11 years – was critical and shameful. There was shock that apprentices paid less than $10,000/£7,500 a year at current exchange rates were integral to many Newsquest newsrooms.
"It is a measure of how much Gannett was worried about the message I might bring, that they thought to inform the police about my attendance and tell them that they feared a protest might take place.
"Amy and I attended from the NUJ as a symbolic action to remind the big US bosses - and Newsquest CEO Henry Faure Walker who was also there – that UK journalists must not be forgotten or taken for granted
"Our was a legitimate and non-disruptive intervention which made Gannett’s over-the-top precautions look strange indeed. But all ended well as Lt Field was charm itself and we enjoyed a really interesting hour-long chat with him about the state of policing over there and their limited resources.
"It was a strange set of events that brought us together but it also gave us a real insight into how strong the American commitment is to defending free speech and the right to protest - something that extends to all, citizens and foreign guests to the country alike."