In My Opinion Size Does Matter and Now is Your Chance to Weigh in On Non-Competes in News

I ran across an interesting article in Shoptalk this Monday morning concerning non-compete clauses in news contracts.  The brief article mentions that a reporter (Rick Redding) at in Louisville is putting together an article about non-competes.  Here’s an excerpt:
As Rick pointed out, “Louisville has recently had some controversy over the issue as it relates to legislation and enforcement. One local station is threatening to enforce a non-compete with a reporter even though they let him go, and at another station a reporter left one station and was on-the-air at another the next day.”

The non-compete is standard language in most on-air personalities’ contracts. Managers view them as an insurance policy that prevents ‘talent’ from walking across the street to the competitors. Increasingly, non-competes show up in contracts for producers, executive producers and news directors.

Non-competes are a hot button and a target for unions, lawyers and legislatures…some state lawmakers have moved to outlaw the clauses..

There is also a site to place your vote in an on-line poll at Shoptalk on the issue of non competes. 

In the past, non-competes were primarily for “on-air” people or as some like to call them “talent”.  A growing number of stations have required the behind the scenes people to sign the NC as well.  I know at WREG, producers and some videographers have had to sign NC.  The general argument for NCs in the first place was to keep the  on-air talent which theoretically had been promoted in numerous on-air campaigns and promos from waltzing across town and appearing on air.  That’s what is keeping Andy Wise off the air at WMC until next January 2nd. That argument appears to me to be null and void when it comes to producers and videographers who have to sign NCs  since most viewers wouldn’t know them if they came up and got in their face.  I think some managers go over-board with the NCs and basically send the message that “if you decide to leave here, just go ahead and leave the market.”  I think that’s one reason why there’s such a good argument to do away with NCs.  Some will tell you that NC’s wouldn’t stand up in court anyway, whether you are “on-air” or not.  The problem is,  few news people have the money to go to court to battle the stations which have much deeper pockets and IMHO would love to make an example of someone.  Don’t you just know that WREG is keeping a close eye on A-W to make sure he DOESN’T go on the air early at WMC.  Some managers will tell you one reason the “on-air” people get the bucks they get is because of those NCs and that without the NCs, salaries would go down.  I know I had a NC when I left WREG which prohibited me from doing anything on “stations broadcasting in the Memphis market”.  Still when I was approached about doing some stuff for a network on satellite, I double checked with the station managers so that I would not run afoul.  I was told if I went forward with the project, I would be in violation of my non-compete.  An attorney said I would not but admitted the station could have milked me dry with legal fees before cutting me loose and telling me that I was right afterall.  I couldn’t afford to take the chance so I passed on the opportunity presented to me.  If I’m not mistaken, the issue of non-competes has come up before the TN legislature and was knocked down.  At some time it will come up again.  It will be interesting to see where it goes if it goes anywhere at all.

Switching gears, I’m now of the opinion that size does matter when it comes to anchor desks.  That’s anchor DESKS.  I’ve seen them in all sizes and shapes from what looked like a couple of  desks from high school at WBKO-TV back in the late 1970s to a desk that I swear was 20 feet long at WEVU-TV (now defunct) in Ft. Myers, FL.  Most anchor desks are parked on a riser in the studio.  I will admit, the most spartan desk I ever saw was the one Peter Jennings used on World News Tonight in the early 80s.  His desk was nothing but a huge slab of Formica countertop I guess mounted on some legs on a riser.  It took up about a third of the tiny news studio and had a glass wall in the back that opened to the working ABC newsroom.  What prompts me to blog on this is the set used by Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.  I guess they spent all their money on his boost in salary and the new graphics because his desk looks terrible.  I think they took some teacher’s desk and set it in front of a glass window with a decent view.  KO looks all scrunched up sitting there and I’d bet his knees hit the bottom of the  top of the desk.  It looks “rinky-dink” IMHO.  I know, it’s all about content anyway, or at least supposed to be but I find the desk rather distracting.  Still, if they pay you 4.5 million a year, I guess you’ll sit just about anywhere they want you to.

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6 Comments on “In My Opinion Size Does Matter and Now is Your Chance to Weigh in On Non-Competes in News”

  1. Richard.... Says:

    Joe, I have worked in jobs before that required I sign a document that more or less stated that I could not work for any company that was in the same line of business for at least a year. Kind of stupid being that both companies, one in Memphis that is now closed, as well as one in Batesville MS that is also closed, had no competition at all!

    It was argued that such clauses would keep someone from earning their potential if they changed jobs, even through no fault of their own.

    I agree that they are stupid and un-necessary as anyone can be replaced. I was replaced in a few jobs I left.
    Andy Wise can be replaced as well as anyone else that works down on the river in that television studio. Same for the one on Union!

    Can’t comment on Keith’s desk as I don’t watch MSNBC anymore. I watch Fox. I’m sure someone will flame me for that! Heh!

  2. rob Says:

    interesting joe. speaking of non-competes and desks, are you ever going to make it back to the anchor desk any time in the future?

  3. joelarkins Says:

    I would say my chances of going back on the anchor desk are between SLIM and NONE.
    Although I learned a long time ago never to say “never”, I really don’t see such a return in my future although I have considered doing some freelance work reporting from time to time. The problem is, the type of reporting I enjoyed doing was not the IN-YOUR-FACE, GOTCHA type stuff that seems to be so popular. I’ve been approached about doing some fill-in anchoring here in Memphis and was quite flattered to have been asked but I backed out at the last minute on that opportunity. So, I just don’t think straight up anchoring will happen for me again.

  4. JJ Says:

    I once stayed in a Nashville hotel near Vanderbilt while my father underwent surgery. I had the ole “complementary continental” breakfast with 3 or 4 different state reps and senators and took the 30 minutes or so I had to share my ideas on how the world would be a better place. I first discussed an idea that our state require young, senior and convicted DUI drivers be required to carry the maximum liability limits within their automobile coverage as those classes are most prone to cause and be liable for personal injury. I still love the idea, but I digress….second was an explanation that I worked in the broadcast business in an on air role and that TN should join in with other states by banning broadcast non-competes. All of the state politicians challenged me to have other on air employees sign a petition. One promised to take it to the floor. I chose not to undergo that work as the risk did not seem to provide a realistic chance of reward.

    Writers note: States that have banned broadcast non competes typically limit them to non-sales employees. If an employee chooses to violate a non-compete or unknowingly allegedly violates a non compete, the alleged infringed or previous employer will generally seek some type of injunction to cease the employment (or violation) until the reasonable and agreed upon restriction expires. BUT often times to successfully obtain this injunction, a court may want to better understand how the pleading x-employer is damaged, other than contractually, and that some monetary damage can be calculated as to the alleged violation. It may be easy to calculate a sponsor or two that loves Andy Wise and will now ante up with 5 over 3 because of the move. This would help enforce an injunction in his case, but what about the camera man or $7.00 per hour tape room guy? I don’t see how a case could be made. Sales positions, on the other hand, are largely all based on relationships with spenders in the field. It is my opinion that an employer could easily show monetary damage when enforcing a sales non-compete. What sales rep will not go after the clients that are accustom to buying from the rep? If the sales rep would stay away from any prospect or client that could identify the rep as being with the old employer, they might have a defense. Also – should a court rule a violation has occurred involving a non-compete, a new employer can be held liable for the claimed and calculated monetary damages. This is why the general procedure is to fire (or suspend employment until settled) a new employee who has a miffed x employer – the new employer does not want to be named in a suit as all the legal fees will be coming off each of the GM’s P&L. At the end of the day, is that risk worth the reward?

    Back a couple of years ago I attended a TAB (Tennessee Association of Broadcasters) meeting/seminar and cornered the president of the organization about this issue. Much to my surprise he disclosed to me that the TAB is VERY active in lobbying AGAINST such a ban. He explained the issue has only appeared in committee a couple of times and they were successful in defeating it. I lost all respect for that organization at that very moment. So know when you go to work today and your GM is proudly displaying a TAB logo in the lobby and paying those dues (Channel 5 probably dishes out more money to the TAB annually than any other media house) – he/she is helping to advocate against your employment freedoms within the industry.

    So what can you do? Not much if you are not in to litigating. Tennessee allows a judge to “blue pencil” non competes, which can be very beneficial to the little man. Here is how I recently handled a non- compete. 1) I got threatened for being in violation. 2) I hired a lawyer and knew I was not in violation. 3) I told my lawyer to explain to the opposing counsel my views, and should my lawyer get a feeling my x employer would back off, I would sue my x employer first. My plan was to punch first and file a request for declaratory judgment and request the judge to interpret the non compete at my request, allowing the judge to “blue pencil” the modifications that I requested. This approach is cheaper than defending your position and very risky, but I CLEARLY felt as if my case was very strong. Worse case, the judge could have denied my request and issued an injunction in favor of my x employer. Or I could have waited it out and let my x employer file an injunction, get fried from my new job and possibly win in court. But with me being jobless, how is that a win? In my case, the x employer backed way off after hearing my facts.

    If you can get a Clear Channel or Raycom or FOX non compete “blue penciled” in Tennessee, it would wreak legal president in this state and possibly throughout the country. Same holds true if an action was filed against you and the little man won. This is the ultimate fear of the corporate counsel. They don’t want every non compete issued within the company to be worthless with one ruling.

    No, I don’t work in broadcast any longer. When it came to my livelihood, I never got far by reminding GM’s that I tend to follow the agreed upon interpretations on paper rather than what flowed from his or her mouth. I now work in law. Irony.

  5. the tall tv guy Says:

    While I have not ever dealt with a non-compete clause, there have been at least three occasions over the last ten+ years where a confidentiality statement has been presented to me by my soon to be ex-employer. I can’t be negative or make damaging statements about them or be subject to legal action. How can I explain what happened in job interviews?? Guess I’m living dangerously….

  6. Lew Says:

    Non competes are banned in Illinois and Missouri and it’s helped raise salaries for broadcast journalists, etc. In Kentucky, where I used to work, a bill to ban them was defeated. The station at which I used to work threatened employees with legal action if they ever violated the NCs, however jumped at the chance to hire folks from the other stations in our market (in IL and MO).

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