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Oklahoman offers 'paid volunteer leave' for employees campaigning for MAPS 3

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An Oklahoma Publishing Co. memo this week encouraged Oklahoman employees to earn paid volunteer leave to campaign in favor of voting for MAPS 3, according to Poynter.org's Romenesko site.

"The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce is looking for volunteers to walk key precincts and neighborhoods this Friday and Saturday to encourage people to vote for MAPS 3," said the memo sent Dec. 2 to Oklahoman staffers with a "Volunteer Leave opportunity" subject line.
 
"Shifts will begin at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Volunteers will meet at the YES for MAPS office at 119 N. Robinson, Suite 120, at the corner of Robinson and Park in downtown OKC and will be walking in teams of two or more."

The memo appeared online Dec. 3 under the headline "Oklahoman staffers get paid to campaign for publisher's pet project." The media blog is maintained by journalist Jim Romenesko at the Web site of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla. Romenesko noted that Oklahoman Publisher David Thompson is chair of the chamber, which is pushing for passage of the $777 million MAPS 3 initiative to be decided Dec. 8.

"As we have said all along, OPUBCO (Oklahoma Publishing Company) employees should feel free to vote as they please next Tuesday, but if you are in favor of MAPS 3 and would like an opportunity to earn paid Volunteer Leave to support this initiative, this is a worthy opportunity for you!" the memo said.

Those interested in being one of the 20 OPUBCO volunteers needed were encouraged in the memo to confirm their intentions to help maintain an accurate head count. Employees were told to contact the chamber directly if they had questions or needed additional details.

OPUBCO RESPONDS
A comment on the Romenesko site titled "VP response" was posted Dec. 3. Yvette Walker, who is listed as the News & Information Center's director of presentation, features, and custom publishing at NewsOK.com, posted the following points:

"The news and information center received a follow-up directive from Kelly Dyer Fry, VP of news and information, that the NIC would not participate.

"Second: The Oklahoman pays staffers 3 days per year to volunteer in the community. Sometimes the newsroom is excluded according to our policy."

Additionally, a Dec. 2 e-mail from Fry was posted regarding the "Volunteer Leave opportunity" memo.

"Please disregard this opportunity," Fry wrote. "We in the NIC will not participate. It is against our political policy."

Thompson responded to Gazette's story.

"Our policy does not allow newsroom employees to engage in political activity, but as good corporate citizens we have many non-newsroom employees who may wish to volunteer. We offer our employees three paid days annually to do volunteer work. Periodically we offer opportunities company-wide, and have for some time. Below, please find a copy of our News and Information Center policy."

Newsroom management and other personnel should not hold public office or campaign for candidates or issues, or offer public endorsements. Staff members should avoid displaying yard signs and bumper stickers that express preferences. Buttons or other political materials should not be worn in work situations. Newsroom employees should be aware that financial contributions to any political movement or campaign could become public record and, therefore, could be considered endorsements. Staff members are encouraged to exercise their rights and privileges as citizens but not in a public arena that would exhibit preferences.

-Gazette staff

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