Off the Record

Most magazine writers only get one venue for a moody portrait photo per issue: the contributors’ pages up front. But Esquire writer-at-large Tom Junod is no ordinary magazine writer.

Mr. Junod doesn’t have a feature in this month’s Esquire , and the front-of-the-magazine slot is filled up by an obituary of war correspondent John Sack. But on page 153, there’s Mr. Junod in black and white, sitting hunched forward on a bench in Central Park, with a manual typewriter by his knee and a sea of crumpled paper lapping at his feet.

“When something is right, you know it,” Mr. Junod says, according to the caption over his head. The rightness, in this case, belongs not to one of Mr. Junod’s lengthy and acclaimed meditations on life and death, but to a wristwatch.

A $3,495 wristwatch, to be exact.

Since March, Mr. Junod has been moonlighting, in the pages of his and other magazines, as a pitch man for Bill Blass Timepieces. The company, a recent entrant into the high-end watch business, had a particular idea about who should be promoting its product, said marketing coordinator Nycole Klein.

“First of all, we had a limited budget,” Ms. Klein said. “We aren’t going to get the John Grishams or the big, huge names that other people get.”

Mr. Junod joins a stable of niche celebrity spokespersons that also includes Broadway star Linda Eder and Washington Ballet dancer Michele Jimenez. “Bill Blass has always been well known in the Washington area,” Ms. Klein explained.

And what does Mr. Junod bring to the Blass brand? “He’s a good-looking guy, so that’s definitely a factor,” Ms. Klein said.

His writing, she said later, is “amazing.”

Mr. Junod is not, by his own confession, a horological expert. “What kind of background would I have?” he asked, reached on the phone at his Atlanta home. “There’s a lot of people in watch ads.”

So when the Blass folks called him up, “I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it,” Mr. Junod said. The job involved spending three hours in Central Park, wearing an Automatic Power Reserve Timepiece, talking to ad staff and posing for Brooklyn-based photographer Heather Conley. Working with the ad agency, Mr. Junod subsequently turned his remarks into ad copy himself, he said.

“We’re pleased that Junod’s intelligent writing and personal style are now being recognized as something American men should aspire to,” an Esquire spokesperson said in a written statement.

In exchange for his effort, Mr. Junod said, “They paid me and they gave me watches. And they’re mighty nice watches.”

Was he wearing one? Not at the moment in the Georgia heat, he said. “My computer tells me the time. It’s 4:38.”

Olive branches and hickory switches are both in the offing at The Wall Street Journal this week, as IAPE Local 1096 and Dow Jones Inc. head toward some sort of conclusion to their seven-month labor-management standoff.

The peace offering comes second: This Friday, the two sides will present their respective cases to a private mediator, splitting the cost. Mediating the contract negotiations was the union’s idea, but the company decided to go along. “Both sides were quickly able to agree,” said IAPE 1096 president Virgil Hollander.

But first, the union is staging a two-day byline strike, in today’s and Thursday’s papers. If you’re springing for mediation, might as well give ’em something to mediate, right?

“It’s an aggressive step,” said Journal reporter and union rep Tom Lauricella. “But we feel it’s an appropriate response to the company’s intransigence and their lack of respect for the bargaining process.”

IAPE 1096, after dabbling in picketing and work-to-rule walkouts, had tamped down its activities for two months in what union members described as a good-will gesture. But good will, they said, didn’t get much done. “As soon as we stopped making noise, the company stopped talking,” Mr. Lauricella said.

Mr. Lauricella, who has not been a direct participant in the bargaining sessions, said that word from the negotiators is that Dow Jones has been threatening to move unilaterally. “They’re basically saying that if mediation doesn’t work, they’re imposing a contract,” he said.

Dow Jones, in a written statement released by a spokesperson, declared that “our reporters have no contractual or other right to have their bylines withheld”-disputing the union’s claim that byline-yanking is a federally protected job action. But the company wrote that “in the interest of compromise,” it would let union members take their names off stories.

“We believe that Dow Jones employs some of the very best reporters in the business of business journalism,” the statement said. “But what matters most to our readers is the stories they write, not the names of who wrote them.”

There’s an implicit shrug of indifference to the company line; as strong-arm tactics go, a byline strike doesn’t exactly rank with setting the presses ablaze. But for a staff that has never dabbled in labor unrest before, it’s drastic enough-particularly for writers dropping their names from The Journal ‘s coveted front page.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” said accounting and financial-fraud reporter Jonathan Weil. He had sunk two months of enterprise into a piece that seemed likely to be part of the anonymous page-1 mix for Wednesday or Thursday. Besides the glow of achievement, he said, reporters were also missing the chance to get over-the-transom tips off the stories they’d run. But the staff is angry enough, Mr. Weil said, to put up with less credit and more legwork.

“It sucks,” Mr. Weil said. “It’s a real sacrifice. We want readers to know who’s writing the stories.”

Not all stories will be anonymous. Overseas reporters are not in the union, and the company plans to print their bylines regardless of any solidarity-minded objections. Columnists such as Walter Mossberg count as members of management and will keep their bylines.

Late Tuesday afternoon, The Journal even agreed to let IAPE members pull their names off news-analysis pieces-which the company had tried to put off-limits to the strike, on the grounds that the author’s identity was integral to the commentary.

Whether the company bends on anything else could be determined on Friday. After any wounded feelings over the byline action have been soothed, the mediator will have to start reconciling what Mr. Hollander called “still pretty significant” differences over wages and health-care costs. A second round of mediation is scheduled for Tuesday, if needed.

“We’ll go as late as we feel like we’re getting something done on Friday,” Mr. Hollander said.

Off the Record