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 LBReport.com 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.

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