continued Raftery has since learned that the U-T has terminated its relationship with several other writers who resisted pressure to sign the contract. Dave Horrigan, whose "Mac Track" column has covered Macintosh computers in the "ComputerLink" section for the past three years, says he received a copy of the contract four or five months ago and for at least two months had been suggesting changes to it. On August 15, however, he got a call from a junior editor informing him that if he didn't sign the contract as written, the paper wouldn't be able to accept any more of his material.
Horrigan says he declined with regret. Although he was paid "less than $100" per column, he says he often got 400 letters a week from readers whom he describes as "the nicest people in the world. They're the heart of America, if you will -- the tryers, the doers, the creative ones.... And the idea that the U-T would just abandon this community is incredible to me!"
A sub-sea engineer who claims credit for "hundreds of inventions," many patented, Horrigan says the loss of his column won't hurt him financially. Nor will it have much impact on Charles Harrington Elster, a local language authority and radio commentator who found about 18 of his book reviews and editorials in the U-T's online archives. Elster refused to sign the contract about two weeks ago. "I'm in it because it's the right thing to do," he says. "But I'm not really sacrificing my income."
That's not the case for all the writers who refused to sign. "We're really looking at tough times," says Terry Tucker Hinkley, a gardening writer who estimates that she has sold about 45 articles to the U-T over the years. "This was unbelievably hard to take. I cried off and on for three days straight."
Calls to the U-T to discuss the freelancers' current situation were not returned. However, Copley Press Inc.'s vice president and chief legal officer Harold Fuson Jr. apparently did speak to a writer for Editor and Publisher's online news service, which posted a report on the controversy last week. That article quoted Fuson as saying the U-T hadn't yet decided whether to purge the aggrieved freelancers' articles from its archives. (The article did not address the question of whether or how those articles might be retrieved from Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw, two electronic databases to whom the U-T apparently sold them.) The story also contained the corporate attorney's assertion that electronic use of articles printed in the U-T brings in only minuscule amounts of revenue and probably never will amount to much. Finally, it quoted Fuson as saying that the Copley Press would "think carefully" about the issues raised by the freelancers.
Youtt, the writer's union representative, as of Tuesday had not received response to his letter. So this week several of the freelance writers retained the services of J. Daniel Holsenback to represent them against the U-T. A Gray Cary veteran who helped form that firm's intellectual property department, Holsenback should be able to compare notes with colleagues in several other cities. In June a group of Boston writers sued the Boston Globe for telling freelancers that they can no longer work for the paper unless they give up their electronic rights. This month, a group of Northern California writers also applied for class-action status to represent up to 10,000 freelancers whose works are included in the Northern Light, ProQuest, and Thompson's Gale Group archives. A similar suit against a Denver database company called UnCover resulted in a $7.25 million payment for back royalties to the writers involved in that case.
Youtt describes the current situation in San Diego as "an exciting moment in newspaper history. It's a big general-circulation newspaper in a big community, and we've got the people to take it on. So from a standpoint of group action, I think it's great." Some of the local freelancers also appear to be drawing inspiration from their colleagues' solidarity. McDonald, for example, says, "I have a whole new set of heroes."
Others are concentrating on what they will do now that they have lost the U-T as a showcase for their work. Computer writer Horrigan says he'll continue selling his column to three publications outside the United States, and he's negotiating with three more in this country. He also plans to start publishing his weekly reflections on his website (www.appleunderstanding.com) and may seek ads for that. Garden writer Betty Newton, who had written for the HomeScape section for 17 years and whose "Gardener's Companion" feature filled a large space in the section the first Sunday of every month, says she plans to write for California Garden Magazine, the publication of the San Diego Floral Association. "Their budget is limited," Newton says, "but the quality is there." Newton also points out that if the U-T managers "get their act together, I will be happy to write for them again. And if not, well, I'm happy to tend my garden." *
Editor's note: Freelancers who write feature stories for the Reader do not see their work on the paper's website unless they contribute to the City Lights or entertainment pages.