By Ralph Zahorik
An online petition drive has been launched to keep news reporter Bob Seidenberg in Evanston.
As of Monday evening, the petition had 149 signatures and scores of comments from supporters, almost all of whom identified themselves as residents of Evanston. Several urged Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing), owner of the Review, to “fire the editor” of Pioneer Press, the Chicago suburban newspaper chain that includes the Evanston Review.
Seidenberg is one of several veteran Pioneer Press reporters targeted by Pioneer. Others have been hit with warning letters or verbal threats that they might be “terminated” for various alleged infractions. The Chicago News Guild, a union local that represents the reporters, has filed about 10 grievances in connection with the warnings. In Seidenberg’s case, an Unfair Labor Practice charge has filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
Seidenberg was notified he was being transferred to the Franklin Park area after he withheld his byline from one of his stories. The story had an inaccurate lead rewritten by a Pioneer editor, he said. Reporters for Pioneer can withhold their names from stories for any reason. Seidenberg earlier had a disagreement with editors over a deadline change. He said he objected to moving up the deadline for the weekly Review to Friday for all but meeting stories. The newspaper comes out on Thursday.
Initially, Tronc editors and managers did not respond to requests for comment on the situation at Pioneer Press. After Seidenberg’s removal was made public by the News Guild, a spokeswoman for Tronc said Seidenberg’s transfer had nothing to do with his byline. He is being moved because there is a vacancy in Franklin Park, she said.
In an email sent the day Seidenberg was told he was being moved out of Evanston “for business reasons,” Pioneer Editor John Puterbaugh wrote the action was being taken “based on general business needs and will be most beneficial to our overall coverage and business strategy.”
The Seidenberg petition was started by Gina Speckman on a Web site called change.org. Speckman could not be reached for comment.
“We think very highly of Bob Seidenberg, and we’re thrilled to see that the Evanston community and many within the media feel the same way,” said Rick Kambic, chairman of the Guild’s Pioneer Press unit. “Bob is a prime example of why it’s important to have union-protected journalists. Thirty years of contacts and insights, that’s not easy to find these days. He’s given a lot of his life to Pioneer Press and the people who live, work and go to school in Evanston.”
In a statement, Seidenberg said, “I really am amazed at the outpouring of emails, tweets, Facebook posts and just expressions of support. Some came from the recipients of tough coverage yet they took time to express support. It has been a truly humbling experience for a reporter used to standing in the background.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from anyone at my company. I really hope I do and there’s a change of mind. It’s an auspicious time: Evanston is at the start of a once in four years’ election season and I believe my background, nearly 30 years covering the town, can be a real asset. I would love for that to be so.”
Among the comments made by petition supporters:
- “Bob is a true asset to the Evanston Review and the community: a principled dedicated reporter. This ill-disguised retaliation for exercising his contractual rights is absurd and intolerable.”
- “Having been born in Evanston, and having grown up with the Evanston Review and the Pioneer Press, this reassignment strikes me as a blow to retaining the integrity of the publication.”
- “This is a bad decision if you care about quality in community journalism.”
- “The editor should go … Bob is good for Evanston; the editor is not.”