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The Washington Post keeps its labor strife out of the reach of children.
The byline strike that hit the Washington Post on Wednesday changed the complexion of a familiar product. For those wondering why most stories had no writer names attached to them, the Post ran a piece on page A2 giving the skinny: The strike was a collective protest against the contract offer made by Post management in recent talks with the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 1,400 newsroom and commercial employees at the paper.
Newsroom editors, though, weren’t the only ones who deemed the strike worthy of mention. KidsPost, the colorful news-digest page for the 8- to 12-year-old demographic, figured it was a teachable moment.
Accordingly, KidsPost generated a piece that explained what a labor union was and what a byline strike was; it even added a few particulars about the guild contract, which expired on May 18.
“It was basically a boiled-down version of the story in the main paper,” says a Post source.
KidsPost reportedly had the piece ready to go on Tuesday night, to run in the byline-stricken June 5 edition. But according a source at the paper, Executive Editor Leonard Downie postponed the story on the rationale that it would be foolish to run it if the byline strike didn’t pan out.
On Wednesday, the byline strike panned out. But then Downie killed the KidsPost explainer anyway.
“We were told that kids could read [about the strike] in the main paper or ask their parents about it,” says one of the sources.
The Post is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t pickle with respect to the byline strike. It can’t afford to ignore a big story happening in its own building, yet it’s not eager to air its internal divisions, either. The solution: Make sure kids don’t find out about it.
In defending his decision, Downie points to the space crunch in KidsPost. “There are only three or four items in KidsPost, and I can’t see that that would be one of most interest to kids,” he says, noting as well that the paper has done adult coverage of the issue. “I don’t know if kids pay attention to bylines or what they are in newspapers.”
Yes, but isn’t the mission of KidsPost to stir their interest? Says Downie: “It’s not necessarily to teach them what bylines are but about the world around them….Bylines are internal newspaper stuff.”
Ten-year-old Bethesda resident James Spies corroborates Downie’s take on the media curiosity of kids. On the topic of newspapers, Spies says, “There’s different articles—they talk about stuff going on around the world.” When asked what a byline is, Spies replies, “I’ve never heard of it.” —Erik Wemple