I’m not sure why Patrick Anderson weaves together the hoopla about Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent promotional script with the idea of banning non-compete agreements in journalists’ contracts. That he strives to do so gives the impression of an ulterior motive to construct a narrative, as does the monolithic presentation of non-competes:
Used in a number of industries, non-compete clauses prevent employees from taking a job with a competing company for a set period of time, often one year, after they end their employment, even if it was the station that decided to part ways. …
Former WJAR investigative reporter Jim Taricani called non-competes unfair in written testimony supporting the bill.
“Prohibiting an employee from finding work to support themselves and their families is an outrageous condition of employment,” Taricani wrote. “Unlike non-compete clauses used for employees who work for companies where they may have knowledge of company ‘secrets’ or ‘confidential product research,’ ‘on-air’ talent in broadcasting have no such knowledge of any confidential information.”
The reasons for non-competes vary from industry to industry. In some cases, knowledge of sensitive information is the thing being protected. When I worked for a carpentry temp agency, non-competes were a way of preventing contractors from using the company as a trial service. In the case of journalism, building up contacts and expertise is a critical part of the job, and people who appear on camera are intrinsically part of a station’s brand.
I’m not, therefore, endorsing non-competes, but these aren’t crazy points to make. WPRI and WJAR have invested in Tim White and Parker Gavigan, respectively, to develop contacts and credibility for investigative reports; if WJAR were to hire White away, WPRI would lose one of its key faces and would have to scramble to rebuild its brand on a very important line of products.
Of course, that should encourage the company to make sure that its star employees are happy, but that balance should be subject to negotiation. For newcomers, a non-compete agreement could be something of a box, but further along in a career, an employee may offer a non-compete as a way to get more money out of the employer. If new employees don’t like the box, they don’t have to take the job.
The speed with which people turn to government to enforce whatever they think is in their best interest at any given time is disturbing to behold.