Monday, December 31, 2007

You can't outsource local quality

Over 100 U.S. newspapers currently take advantage of the lower costs associated with compensating workers in overseas countries and the number is predicted to accelerate in '08 as more publishers seek to reduce by as much as 40% their ad production budgets.

Next up? Spec ad design, specialty publication design and pagination. Oh, and foreign workers will also handle editorial layout, headline writing and yes, even copy-editing.

MediaNews wants us to agree to a proposal that will allow it to outsource our work too, presumably so it can continue to lower its costs. But putting the responsibility for accuracy and truth in the hands of those who are so completely removed from the source of the news or event, increases the likelihood that quality will be sacrificed for efficiency.

We understand the need for efficiency in these tough times for our industry. But we stand for efficiency and quality, which is why the work should remain ours.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Catching up on news you can use

Here's a round-up of recent news items we think are important:

— New update here on Guild bargaining at the Monterey Herald, a unit of the San Jose Newspaper Guild.

— In case you didn't have time to read the whole story on the Guild's campaign in the Bay Area ("We're still here. Don't believe the hype."), Dean Singleton, responding to claims he is anti-union, said: "I don't know where that reputation comes from," he says. "We have unions at many of our newspapers, and we usually reach agreement with them at contract time. I don't see how that's anti-union."
Really? Some of the company proposals here in Long Beach may not be "anti-union", but they damned sure aren't pro-worker!

— The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week in a 3-2 decision that it is legal for employers to prohibit union-related e-mail as long as employers have a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for "non-job-related solicitations" for outside organizations. NYT

— Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher picks the top ten news-industry stories of the year. The upcoming Newspaper Guild election and MediaNews gets mention.

— We've added a number of resources to the right rail under "Links".

— And finally, One Big BANG will launch its new website January 8th. We'll be checking in often when the address is up.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

California paper chase

Hey, remember Keith Higginbotham? Formerly of the P-T? His was the first comment submitted in response to "Paper Chase" at SF, a long, but worthwhile read that does a terrific job summing up what happened when MediaNews attempted to use its clustering business practice in NorCal to achieve its long-term goal to bust the union, and what the Guild has done and is doing to mobilize and organize Bay Area workers. at the Contra Costa Times, part of the BANG (Bay Area Newspaper Group. The P-T and LADN are part of LANG, Los Angeles Newspaper Group).

From "Paper Chase" –

MediaNews had decided to merge the 120 employees of ANG and the 180 nonunion employees of the Contra Costa Times into the new BANG cluster. With 300 employees, the union, which had 80 dues-paying members, no longer had the official support of 50 percent of staff that it required for recognition. MediaNews had, without warning, shut down the union its members had relied on for salary and benefit negotiations and arbitration, right in front of them.


In a recent telephone interview, Singleton defended his decision to stop recognizing the ANG union. "It was the only fair thing to do," he said. "We had to recognize the rights of the majority of employees."


The 34,000-member national Newspaper Guild was so ticked off that it filed multiple unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, which are still pending, and put up the $500,000 for the One Big BANG campaign. Guild president Linda Foley says the campaign is perhaps the most important effort under way in the newspaper industry. "We have an organizing campaign going on in Southern California and ongoing negotiations in Pennsylvania, but what's going on in the Bay Area is serious," she says. "MediaNews just decided to withdraw recognition of a bargaining unit, and we don't intend to let that go."
We don't intend "to let that go" here in LANG, either.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Local multimedia reporter, author, and blogger David LaFontaine says he's rooting for us. He thinks our posts "have an edge of hysteria and desperation about them." He writes: "Since most of my case studies have been about newspapers where things are going right, where they've decided to innovate and take bold action to try to reverse the course, I haven't come into contact much with the miserable side of newspapering. This blog certainly brings it all home, thought [sic]."

We are neither hysterical nor desperate. We're determined.

We are hard-working and innovative newspaper and online workers, united in our determination to achieve a fair and equitable contract. We're taking "bold action to reverse" the race to the bottom.

The "miserable side of newspapering" is working for a company that is concerned, committed and hard at work on maximizing its bottom line to increase its profits rather than investing in good journalism and service to the community. That makes us angry.

But that's not all: The fact is that we want MediaNews to come to the bargaining table with realistic proposals that will not just be good for Denver-based owner MediaNews Group, but good for us and our communities too. After all, we do the work, right? We passionately believe in what we do, but we need to earn a living.

So thanks for your support, David. And by the way, our colleagues at The New York Times (newspaper and online) are represented by The Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, CLC.

Just like us.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fill in the blank: What a(n) ______ week for the P-T

If your answer is 'busy,' 'unsettling, 'annoying,' or 'depressing,' read on:

- After suffering a mini-stroke two weeks ago and announcing his semi-retirement, P-T columnist Tom Hennessy got his send-off, an event attended by current and past staffers, upper management types, and Mayor Bob Foster - who ribbed a reporter for not using his quotes in Sunday's Hennessy farewell centerpiece (although his quote ran on A3), and for the 'Mr. Long Beach' title bequeathed to the celebrant.

Some people stayed for the memories, others dallied long enough to nosh on catering provided by Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse. According to staffers who stuck around to the end, Hennessy reportedly said, "I don't know how you do what you do, given what you have to work with."

The reference to the P-T's contentious negotiations - and fall-out should MNG interests prevail - cropped up again when...

- Much to the chagrin of upper management types, The District ran a not-so-misty piece on what Hennessy's departure means to a local daily losing its local readers.

Hennessy's near-nonexistent solidarity with staffers is skewered in Dave Wielenga's own recollections. Alhough it's debatable whether it's hitting below the belt to knock a guy who just had a stroke, Wielenga drives home what many of us already know, namely that it's not only Hennessy's loss that readers ought to be saddened by, but also what his absence signals. Playing out in the backdrop of his departure are Denver-appointed leadership changes and contract negotiations that more or less punish local employees. Slashed healthcare, a "generous" offering of zero-percent raises, the ability to freeze and fire employees, and job outsourcing.

We get the message, all right (that we can't afford to get sick, let alone barely stay healthy, and a willingness to work under these conditions isn't enough). But it sends a message to readers and advertisers, too: that this paper may not their wisest investment.

- Thursday's big surprise wasn't the cost-cutting move of nixing this year's company Christmas party (though the company did put in for coffee and salad at an employee-organized potluck), but word of the abrupt resignation of P-T advertising director Francesca Lewis.

Lewis was formerly Modesto Bee's vice president of advertising, considered such a coup that P-T upper management felt her arrival warranted an article its Business Section. Her resignation after less than three months at the P-T was widely talked about by Friday, and with it the obligatory speculation that accompanies such office news.

A staffer from the advertising department summed it up with, "Means more work for someone. Merry Christmas!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Guild in bargaining at MN Monterey Herald

Take a look at the San Jose Guild's negotiations bulletin here. Bargaining at the Herald between the Guild and MediaNews began last month. Looks like progress is being made and we hear it is in large part due to the unity among bargaining unit members. We can make good things happen here, too, by standing together and standing strong!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What do striking Hollywood writers and journalists have in common?

Both want to be paid for their work.

In her Everyday Ethics column, PoynterOnline's Kelly McBride writes: "If industry leaders like [Associated Press CEO] Curley can't figure out a way to increase profit margins, the trend of cutting staff and freezing salaries will continue. Eventually salaries for journalists will fall. If journalists aren't paid enough to support a family (and in some places that's already a reality), the quality of the work is bound to suffer. Who Will Pay the Journalists?

This is our reality. We want a fair and equitable contract NOW!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We're not asking for houses

A few months ago, union stewards took a reporter's approach with a MediaNews Group Corporate Suit (a corporate VP here to negotiate our contract) by placing faces on a story about numbers and dollar amounts.

It was easy to find these stories in the newsroom. Staffers often commiserate over financial woes — losing a house, not being able to move out of an apartment in a bad neighborhood, choosing between starting a family and holding on to a job. We all know that reporting, photographing and designing a newspaper doesn't bring the big bucks. Journalism is a calling; it means you answer to your readers.

But the question about to whom we should be accountable — the media-consolidation juggernaut in Denver looking at the bottom line, or readers who know they can get their news elsewhere from the likes of or The District — puts journalists, city editors and you, the readers, in an interesting position.

Call it a business, call it a "noble vocation" - newspapering is about service. When staff levels are cut by attrition or by lay-offs, it does more than save money. It eliminates more journalistic presence in the communities the Press-Telegram once and now struggles to cover. Why would subscribers in Norwalk want a paper that does not have the staff to cover them, yet can run San Fernando Valley-centric stories? While MNG can reap savings through attrition and wage and position freezes in the short-term, what they are really growing is a less interested and dwindling readership.

P-T staffers don't want that. Reporters, photogs, designers, copy desk — even middle managers — we're all in it together. We all need to make a living so we can continue to report, to learn, to watch and write about the changes happening around us.

Our young and eager staffers need our veteran staff for mentorship. Our newsroom needs local copy editors to properly fact-check local articles. We need metro, sports and photo editors who are invested in this community. They are what makes the P-T uniquely the P-T.

And most importantly, readers are aware that their century-old local paper is ailing, and in the near future will receive its directives from the offices of its young sibling The Daily Breeze? How long until that newsroom is culled?

But back to the MediaNews Group Corporate Suit's reaction after hearing out staffers' stories.

He became angry, a union steward said.

"I get it. I get it," he recalled The Suit saying. "Look, even if I went around and bought everyone in that newsroom a house, it still wouldn't solve anything."

We're not asking for houses.

By nickeling and diming the "content providers" of a newsroom, the company is driving out employees who want to work but are becoming less and less able to support themselves. P-T staffers don't want to hear from an incoming editor, "Where do you see yourself in six months?" They don't want to be told that they have a counterpart at the Daily Breeze, and that having two is redundant.

If the shoe were in the other foot, and it was The Suit and his peers facing possibilities of wage freezes, out-of-town leadership from a supervisor who has no personal investment in your newspaper, they'd be pretty frustrated, too.

They'd get it.

LAT competition moving in?

The scramble to provide our community with exceptional local news coverage will no doubt heat up when the Los Angeles Times' plan to open a reporter bureau in or near our area gets implemented early next year. From an LAT memo: "The goal is to provide our readers a steady stream of high quality, sophisticated stories that will enliven A-1 and the California section for readers across Southern California."

We want to continue to provide our readers with a steady stream of high quality stories for our readers. We work damn hard every day to do so. But unlike the Tribune-owned LAT staff, we're underpaid, under-staffed and overworked (did we mention underpaid?) so its a constant struggle to cover the stories we know our community wants and needs.

Why is it a daily struggle, you ask? Because our corporate owner is on a consolidate-to-cut-costs mission that has stripped us of the needed resources that help us do our jobs — resources like newsroom support staff who answer newsroom phones, or fact-check or edit our copy — folks who free us up to do what we do best: gather and report the news.

Sure we want a fair and equitable contract with a decent wage and a guarantee that our work stays here rather than outsourced to who-knows-where, but the MediaNews corporate mandate that sucks all profits out of Long Beach (you can hear that big sucking sound all the way to Denver), has left scant resources here and the word is that more cuts will come. Makes it a tough task to chase down and cover the great local stories that are waiting to be told.

We don't want the LAT taking over coverage of stories we and our predecessors have covered in this community for 110 years. But nothing MediaNews has done thus far indicates it will care one way or another. Just show it the money.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Little movement in contract talks

In our mediation session Dec. 3, VP and company negotiator Jim Janiga made no movement away from the company's egregious proposals of zero-substandard wage increases, a wage freeze anytime during the term of the new contract and its demand for the right to outsource any and all jobs — all regressive proposals designed to screw rank and file workers at a time when MediaNews continues to buy up more papers.

But although there was no movement on the outsourcing proposal, the company did not reject out of hand the Guild's counterproposal which includes language requiring the company to first offer the work to union staffers.

In addition, a proposal put forth by the union that would provide photographers an equal share of the profits of pictures used on the newspaper's website and later sold to the public is under consideration. The company has offered 25%.

Your bargaining team — Don Jergler, Kris Hanson and Joe Segura, led by Local 9400 president Micheal Hartigan — along with the federal mediator are trying to pin down future bargaining dates. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Meeting with editors cordial but slim on details

We thought it was time to get answers to questions we've had about the goings-on at the Press-Telegram lately. So last Thursday (Nov. 29) P-T Guild leaders sat down with publisher Dave Kuta and executive editor Rich Archbold. Torrance Daily Breeze editor Phillip Stanfield was also in attendance. During the cordial meeting, the company talked about several of its strategies that will continue to impact us (and affect or readers) in the coming months:

— consolidation of the Daily Breeze, Press-Telegram and LA Daily News editorial operations will continue. More design, copy editing duties and writing, including editorial pieces will be shared as LANG seeks to cut costs further;
Daily Breeze editor Sanfeld has been picked by MediaNews executives in Denver to oversee consolidation and admitted that "when push comes to shove, I have the authority" to determine future staff levels and operations at the Press-Telegram.
— as many of you know, Sanfeld has been conducting one-on-one interviews with P-T photographers, copy editors and reporters in recent weeks to find out "what they like about their job, what they want to do in the future and what they bring to the company". Sanfield promised not to throw P-T employees under the bus, however, when future staffing decisions are made despite his ties to the Breeze;
— the P-T advertising department will join us on the 14th floor by Feb. 1. Some advertising folks will occupy space on the 1st floor, where the P-T's former workers were located before being laid off earlier this year.

Consolidation. Here's what MediaNews' consolidation strategy has done to its Bay Area newspapers: After consolidating, MediaNews busts union in Bay-area newsrooms. We want our work and our jobs to stay here, right? Our hometown paper means a lot to us. With all due respect, it seems to us that if the P-T is important to MediaNews, the company would be investing in the P-T product and staff rather than consolidating it with out-of-town newspapers to cut out-of-town corporate costs.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Candy canes and conversations at parade

Thanks to Kris, Greg, Joe and Company who helped spread candy canes and word of our labor struggle to early parade goers Saturday on 2nd Street. We went out a couple of hours before the fun started and everyone we talked with — with very few exceptions — were interested in learning more about our fight to preserve our newspaper's long-held connections to the community it serves. Gave us a great opportunity to tell them we're fighting for a fair, equitable contract, too.