Houston Chronicle sportswriter Alan Truex raised some eyebrows last year when he filed a federal lawsuit claiming the paper refused to pay him for four years' worth of overtime.
Get ready to raise the other eyebrow: the Chron has reportedly settled the suit for a tidy sum well into the six figures.
Neither side is talking, but the settlement apparently banishes the 14-year veteran Truex from the sports desk; he'll freelance restaurant reviews for a year and then leave the paper.
Truex's suit also claimed the Chron yanked him from his position as Astros beat writer in retaliation for his OT complaints. Lately he's been writing the horse-racing column.
The issue is how Truex is classified under the Fair Labor Standards Act. If he's a "non-exempt" grunt worker, the law mandates he gets paid time and a half for overtime; if he's a manager or has some discretion in his duties, he gets paid a straight salary with no OT considerations.
The Chronicle, like many other papers, has struggled with the question of how to classify reporters. Some media outlets, like the Gannett chain, have gone so far as to pull reporters off breaking stories if OT loomed. Labor experts say that the more original and creative a writer is allowed to be, the more likely he or she'll be considered "exempt" and not eligible for overtime pay.
Rumors have Truex getting anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000. It's all a black eye for sports boss Dan Cunningham, an assistant managing editor who's long looked to expand his empire. Newsroom critics say he mishandled the case from the start, opting to bully Truex rather than negotiate.
Note to all Chronicle staffers looking to hop onto the settlement gravy train: Truex's lawyer was a guy named Scott Fiddler. He didn't return our phone calls, but we're guessing he'll take yours.
Crash and Burn
The May 12 crash of a small private plane at Hobby Airport had the local television stations scrambling, with mixed results.
The incident -- six people died instantly, with some bodies being forcibly ejected upon impact -- happened just minutes before Channels 2 and 11 went on the air with their noon news.
KHOU was in the best position of anyone to break the news -- station producer Wayne Lorentz happened to be in a plane on the runway and saw the crash. Unfortunately, Lorentz reported that his pilot said "some people managed to get out and walk away" from the utterly flattened plane.
The station stuck with the "news" that five people had escaped death, even as shots from their chopper showed the one ambulance crew at the site not doing so much as taking the blood pressure of a "survivor," as other emergency personnel slowly unwound crime-scene tape with no sense of urgency.
"It seems pretty miraculous," anchor Gina Gaston said.
Eventually, well into the broadcast, news came of the six deaths. "This certainly changes this whole situation, Bob," anchor Jerome Gray said to the chopper pilot. "Fucking-A right it does," Bob somehow did not reply.
On KPRC, "Where Local News Comes First," anchor Khambrel Marshall led with the alarmingly vague "There's been some sort of crash at Hobby Airport" and then moved on to other news, pledging updates as available. For eight looooong minutes, as viewers saw stories on Midwest storms and New Mexico fires, no word came on just what he meant by "some sort of crash."
Finally came word it was a private plane. Then the chopper got on the air, with not much to report. Then -- finally, some news! -- authorities announced that six people were confirmed dead.
At which point KPRC went straight to a commercial.
Going for the Gold
Was that some strong episode of Olympics Fever that Houston just went through or what? We're talking body temperature of 98.8 degrees, at least.
In case you missed it, the Chron treated us all to a dose of the booster-driven malady in the past week or so, in its never-ending effort to attract the 2012 Games to our city, a city which apparently bears no resemblance to the heat-scorched, transportation-lacking, advertising-whore Southern burg of Atlanta.
The latest burst of Fever came in conjunction with the U.S. Olympic Committee's Media Summit, where reporters come from all over the country to talk to obscure Olympic athletes who would otherwise be very difficult to get a hold of, we guess. (Just try getting a synchronized swimmer to return a reporter's phone call.)
We had the obligatory overview that told us Houston is in great, great shape to host an Olympics, even though the story discreetly buried the news nugget that Metro brass were ignored when preparing the transportation part of the city's bid.
We had stories where reporters expressed wonder at the hospitality of the city; journalists got free Astro tickets, all the food and drink they could handle, and goodie bags galore.
They also got something much more valuable: a sneak preview of Chron sports columnist John Lopez' Olympics coverage.
The Olympics traditionally send Lopez into paroxysms of strained writing. Gymnasts become "impish sprites with spines of steel flitting their way into our newly besotted hearts," or words to that effect.
He wrote May 12 about how daddy-suing gymnast Dominique Moceanu was ready to face the media: "Shoulders back, chin up. We've seen the classic gymnast's pose before, but on Moceanu it no longer is something done only for judges. It has become a symbol for her life. Come on, world, take your best shot."
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He also wrote about "the Jenny Johnson Jordans," which isn't a pop group but a shining symbol of Olympic purity, like "the Kerri Strugs" and "the Dan Jensens" and "the Amy Van Dykens."
He wrote of Jordan's selfless battle: "You will see this strikingly humble and focused woman strike a volleyball in Australia next September and know immediately that she is why you care to watch beach volleyball during the Olympic Games."
Sure, dude. That is why we care to watch beach volleyball. It's not the bikinis, it's the stories behind the bikinis.
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