Monday, December 29, 2008

401(K)illed

As reported by Gary Scott, MediaNews Senior VP of Human Relations announced that the company is suspending their fund-matching program for employee 401(K) investments.

But all is not lost. From Janiga's email to Guild rep Vicki Di Paolo:

Based on the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement in effect for the Daily News and the status quo position of the collective bargaining agreement at the Press-Telegram the above is not applicable to the guild represented employees at those operations."Unless otherwise negotiated by the parties, the matching contributions will remain in effect."

It's unfortunate that this is happening to any employee, and you have to wonder just how much they could possibly save. The fund matching cap is low enough to minimize employer expenses already. But our members can be assured that their rights have been secured, and the provision remains unchanged for them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An offer they couldn't refuse?

We found a link last weekend on Gary Scott's blog to this story from the Rocky Mountain News:

The Denver Newspaper Agency has issued an ultimatum to its six unions: Agree to $20 million in wage and benefit concessions by Jan. 16 or face even worse consequences.

The unions have asked to see the company's books, but so far no details have been released.

It's finally come to this. Driven to satisfy their $130 million in debt, the Denver Newspaper Agency (a joint venture between MediaNews and E.W. Scripps) is demanding that their employees sacrifice another $20 million from their wages and benefits.

$20 million also happens to be the amount the DNA's debt has decreased in the last three years. By one interpretation, that means the company is essentially asking the employees to shoulder 100% of the company's debt payments from that period.

It's worth pointing out that DNA heavyweights like MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton get a minimum 5% salary increase a year.

"You know, I'm not really into squeezing a few more million out. I'm not a money guy."

- Dean Singleton, 2003. (Columbia Journalism Review)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Unsustainable?

So the Detroit Media Partnership has finally decided that constant incremental cuts is a losing proposition.

According to media blogger Ken Doctor's Content Bridges blog, Detroit Media CEO David Hunke reportedly called the current model "unsustainable."

"And [Detroit Media Partnership CEO David] Hunke said, if we don't do this, the current model is unsustainable. So he'd rather take the calculated risk of going to a new format -- rather than sit back and do incremental cutbacks."
To prevent those small cuts, the Detroit News and Free Press are making one big cut - namely, home delivery has been reduced by four days, and the print edition will be reduced to 32 pages most days.

Scaling back print operations has been particularly supported by the tech sector, but it's uncertain just how beneficial the cuts will be.

To be sure, a segment of the newspaper industry is in real trouble. But cutting coverage further fails to capitalize on newspapers' strengths.

Obviously a strong Web presence is important, as is keeping up with the changing demands of a society that relies more and more on technology. But if your product (the news coverage) is only offered in print, are readers just going to give up on local news? People will always care about what's happening in their communities. The problem is, many newspapers aren't offering much to satisfy that need. Local newspapers have an insurmountable advantage when it comes to providing local news coverage. Focus on strengthening your product, and the packaging will be a lot less important.

To illustrate the point, let's compare the top Web headlines as of 1 p.m. today, from four random small and mid-market dailies, along with the headlines from four of the large-market papers.

Abilene Reporter News:
TV stations conducting blackout test prior to digital conversion

Helena Independent Record:
Forecast: Brrrrr

Adirondack Daily Enterprise:
Governor’s budget would close Camp Gabriels (third update)

Boca Raton News:
Boca Raton student continues his annual toy collection drive for needy children

Those stories have only two things in common:

1) They're boring as hell to anyone that lives thousands of miles away

2) No one else has those stories

Sure, the content might not be sexy and only appeals to a select audience. But most newspapers operate in a regional market. The nice thing is, they're the same people!

Now let's compare those headlines with the big boys...

Washington Post:
Federal Reserve Slashes Interest Rate to Historic Low

New York Times:
Fed Cuts Benchmark Rate to Near Zero

USA Today:
Fed cuts interest rates to near zero to combat economic recession

LA Times:
Fed cuts rates to record low: 0% to 0.25%

Now let's just look at one more news provider, this time a Web site

CNN.com:
Fed slashes key rate to near zero

Anyone see a problem here?

* Alan Mutter isn't a big fan of cancelling home delivery.

In the reports of not-every-day delivery are true, the papers in Detroit may be about to kick off a self-fulfilling cycle of decline that eventually may consume them.

Mark Potts is.

And if it does drive readers from print to online, then that's a good thing, because online is where the future is. The sooner the newspaper industry truly understands that–and begins paying truly serious attention to promoting online and working hard to find innovative sources of revenue online–the sooner the transition to the inevitable future will take place.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The future can wait

Our newspapers are listening to what readers want and we would expect there to be a continued extension of content, particularly online, as well as continued expansion of video, rich databases of local information and other content that is first and foremost useful to our audiences.

- Dean Singleton, 61st World Newspaper Congress, 2008. (BusinessWeek.com)


What a difference a few short months can make.

As usual, MediaNews' rhetoric fails to coalesce into reality. Once the newspaper of record for the burgeoning tech sector (and home of the first journlist blog), the San Jose Mercury News hasn't done much to gain an online audience, and now they plan on doing even less.

According to paidcontent.org, the plans for a strong Web presence at the Merc have been scrapped.

In order to compete with online, George Riggs, the paper’s former publisher, told the NYT that, “The answer for newspapers has to lie in building their Web sites better and better, and promote, promote, promote. We haven’t seen that.” But with others at the paper saying that “grand plans” have given way to day-to-day survival, the San Jose paper’s editor David Butler, online enhancements will have to wait. Butler: “Until or unless we see that those things pay for themselves, we make a serious mistake in focusing too much on that.” But the catch is, how can the website start attracting ad dollars and readers if Merc News doesn’t offer a better online environment?

Of course, this is the same company that scrapped the profitable San Pedro Magazine, arguably in an effort to keep ahead of their titanic debt. That decision, like the Los Angeles Daily News layoffs (and others) came without warning or preamble, stunning both staffers and readers.

When a company fails to capitalize on an opportunity, or abandons a lucrative product, it's never reassuring. What's even more troubling is that sacrifices like these don't solve the company's financial problems - it merely delays them. And in this case, that delay is likely to prove short-lived. The only real hope for MediaNews is a dramatic change in circulation or advertising. Unfortunately the odds of a resurgence decrease with each loss in content and coverage. How can readers and advertisers come back, when each day has less and less for them to return to?

Fortunately for San Pedro residents, former San Pedro Magazine editor Josh Stecker is taking matters into his own hands, launching the independent San Pedro Today to fill the void left by MediaNews. Gary Scott has the details.

One of our members was at a meeting with Stecker before the announcement, here's what he sent us:

...In the newsroom last week, just one day after an Pedro Magazine editor Joshua Stecker was told his services were no longer needed, Josh spoke to members passionately about his frustration with the cancellation of the magazine and the fact that it was making money. He was holding back when discussions came up about starting a publication and looked like he wanted to tell us something but didn't, and most likely couldn't. Guild members talked with him about the fact that the paper virtually has no food/ arts and entertainment section, despite the fact that Long Beach and the surrounding cities are loaded with talent waiting to have their story told. The travel section of the LA Daily news is now gone, and I'm sure the food section is on the block soon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Experts: MN at risk of default

Moody's Investors Service has down-graded MediaNews because it "faces a heightened risk of near-term default ...." under Moody's definitions. From E&P:

Moody's said it calculates Denver-based MediaNews Group's leverage ratio as more than 8 times debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). When Tribune sought bankruptcy refuge earlier this week, it was widely reported it feared violating its credit agreement covenants of 9 times EBITDA.
MediaNews insists its "in compliance with all debt covenants, as has always been the case, and expects to do whatever is needed to stay in compliance during these difficult times."

Whatever is needed?

Singleton says MN “probably” won’t offshore copy desks

Well, at least not any time soon. During a series of outtakes from interviews for a feature story on the up-for-sale Scripps-owned Rocky Mountain News for Westward, a Denver-based alternative owned by Village Voice Media, MN boss Singleton said:

"We are doing pre-press work in India and have been doing it for more than two years -- and it's worked very well. We've explored outsourcing copy editing and page makeup in India, too, but we probably won't do that. I think we're finding we can consolidate within our newspapers and get the same savings we can offshore. We probably won't put any news operations there -- and we weren't talking about reporting and editing. We were talking about copy editing and page design, and I think we've found we can do it just as well ourselves here.
That's welcome news indeed.

Singleton's October revelation that the company is exploring outsourcing – even offshoring – copy desk and page makeup functions prompted California Guild-covered employees to issue a joint statement in which it pointed out that a "proposal to wipe out copy desks at newspapers across the country threatens not only hundreds of jobs, but also quality and credibility – values the beleaguered newspaper industry needs now more than ever".

If continued consolidation of newsroom functions is necessary to keep our newspapers viable, so be it. We can help make that work. We want our papers — and our jobs — to stay local.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rumor becomes reality

In a matter of days, disputed rumors over layoffs at the Los Angeles Daily News have suddenly become sickeningly real.

An anonymous DN staffer described the details in an email:

Longtime prep sportswriter Gerry Gittleson, 11-year film critic Glenn Whipp and reporter Justino Aguila, who was a fairly recent hire, all got the hatchet. And Antelope Valley reporter Karen Maeshiro recently stepped down after the decision to no longer cover the AV. She was offered a reporting position, but would've had to commute from there every day. Her hand was essentially forced, making her decision a no-brainer.

Other news from today: The Travel section is folding. Pared-down travel news will, however, appear in Sunday's LA.com. Travel writer Eric Noland and LANG Sports Editor Kevin Modesti, both longtime DN employees, are being reassigned to News as reporters.


The news is especially shocking, coming on the heels of what appeared to be a denial by MediaNews rep Jim Janiga, who said that although layoffs were likely to happen at some point, there were no immediate plans in place.

It's hard to comprehend why or how things could happen the way they are. Actions like this not only hurt the quality of the product, but hurt the morale of the employees who are already suffering through a cataclysmic industry shakeup. At a minimum, you deserve to be treated like more than an entry on a budget spreadsheet, that can be erased at will. You deserve respect, just like any other hardworking professional, and this is not how a credible employer does business.

What's uncertain now is how the layoffs will affect the employees and the newsroom at the DN. The contract is explicit: "... in the event of a subcontract which may reasonably result in the layoff of employees, the Employer shall notify the Guild within two weeks of anticipated action and bargain the effects on employees to be laid off."

So we need everyone to pay attention to the workload. If the layoffs result in a freelancer or other outside source picking up the slack, we'll need information and details in order to enforce the contract.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How it's done

One of our loyal readers passed along an interesting piece of news from the Palm Beach Post today. According to blogger Bob Norman, management at the paper is freezing all management salaries, and giving regular employees a 2% raise.

"It is important for you to know that executives at PBNI will not receive pay increases during 2009," Franklin wrote. "This decision is reflective of the need to reduce expenses and demonstrate leadership as we confront our economic challenges together."

The cynics might argue that this is mostly a symbolic gesture, and they're probably right. But at a time when industry execs repeat the same baleful cries of falling revenues while hosting million-dollar parties and enjoy a mandatory 5% pay increase on a six-figure salary, even the little gestures can mean a lot.

And speaking of the DNC soiree, turns out that was notable for more than just fiscal irresponsibility - it was the inaugural debut of a partnership deal between MediaNews and the Politico Network. That partnership model has taken root, and the content-sharing company has just announced that their client list now includes almost 70 newspapers.

The growth spurt comes hot on the heels of recent complaints from newspapers about the Associated Press, whose new rate structure places an additional burden on businesses facing plummeting revenues and circulation.

Some of our members have suggested that the honeymoon deal, launched by MediaNews properties like the Denver Post (owned by Associated Press chairman Dean Singleton) is another example of big business eating its young. We disagree. Relevant, quality content is always a good idea.

Of course, if MediaNews and other papers hadn't slashed staff, thus forcing editors to rely on AP content, and giving the AP incentive to raise rates in the first place...

No layoffs (for now)

Rumors have been circulating regarding impending layoffs at the Daily News. Guild Rep Vicki Di Paolo has spent the last week tracking down the facts, and here's what she sent out to the membership:

In response to several inquiries about rumors of more lay offs at the Daily News, after one week, two email communications and a phone call Jim Janiga (Sen. VP of Human Resources) responded via email that there are no lay offs planned, but as the economy worsens we can expect there will be more. Also, he has no idea of what department(s) would be affected.

Not exactly an ironclad declaration one way or another.

Also, the Daily News announced that it is closing the Antelope Valley bureau and reporter Karen Maeshiro will leave the company after 20-years of service.

Telecommuting would have seemingly been an easy solution, but wiser minds decided to ask Maeshiro to commute from Antelope Valley to the Woodland Hills office. Maeshiro is said to have responded that "the prospect of that commute proved too daunting."

As always, the Guild will continue to investigate these situations and seek more information as it becomes available.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Holding the line

No movement was made at our bargaining session yesterday with the company. We again proposed the company's outsourcing language be shelved for 12 months. And again, the company resisted the proposal - ironically enough, by insisting they want to "negotiate a full contract now" that includes the ultimate flexibility to outsource — even offshore — all our jobs.

Our editor, Rich Archbold, said at last weekend's "Press in Transition" event that our jobs are not in danger, in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. He continues to assure the public – and disgruntled readers – that the newspaper will be around for another hundred years.

We know that our contract fight is not only about jobs. It's about the future of the Press-Telegram.

We go back to the table January 15th.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Many questions, few answers


If there's one thing that's clear after Saturday's League of Women Voters "Press in Transition" panel discussion, it's that there are no easy answers to the problems facing journalism today. Indeed, there isn't even much of a consensus on exactly what the problems are.

Approximately 60 people visited the Long Beach Main Library to listen as local journalists and other experts offered their opinions on the current state of journalism in Southern California.

Some panelists were unwaveringly optimistic. Rich Archbold, executive editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram promised readers that his paper would be one of many still printing in the next century - although the format may not be what readers today expect. But despite falling revenues and circulation, Archbold believes today's environment is more opportunity than obstacle. The Internet, widely blamed for print media's loss of advertising revenue and readership, marks a revolution in Media, said Archbold.

"We're on the cusp of something amazing," he said. "This is almost bigger than Gutenberg."

Panelist Danny Paskin, assistant professor at CSULB, told the audience that online journalism is indeed growing, and represents a total change in the way Americans get their news. Paskin cited the rise of Web sites like the Drudge Report as evidence that online journalism has become a primary news source for many readers.

Other panelists were not as optimistic.

Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jeffrey Rubin offered a much more ominous perspective. For all the ease and accessibility, he said, the Internet hasn't provided "the same quality and depth of knowledge" as print media. Investigative journalism in particular, he said, has declined. Most importantly, the newspaper industry has yet to adjust their business model to reflect the changing times.

"I do not think daily newspapers will be here in 100 years," Rubin said. "I doubt they'll be on your doorstep in 30 years."

Rabin also stressed the need for journalism to maintain credibility in an era of fewer resources and instant information, arguing that accurate political coverage is vital to democracy, and "there is public trust in journalism."

"Our role [as journalists] is to present the why of events and explain ... how did we get to where we are, and that is not happening any more."

Neena Strichart, publisher of the Signal Tribune weekly newspaper, reflected on conditions at the Press-Telegram, and the ongoing reductions in content and staffing. The paper's circulation decline is estimated at more than 25% over the last ten years. Strichart said she's worried by the prospect of Long Beach without the Press-Telegram.

"Thinking about this city without a daily newspaper scares the heck out of me," she said. Strichart explained that for many readers, part of the appeal of a newspaper is its tangibility. A newspaper represents low-cost information that's highly accessible - and most important, it's information you can hold in your hand, touch and feel.

Harry Saltzgaver, associate publisher and executive editor of the Gazette newspapers, believes that focusing on the needs of your audience is key to newspapers' survival. Citing the Press-Telegram's evolution from a regional newspaper to one focused on a single city, Saltzgaver suggested that recent newspaper industry woes have actually been good for daily newspapers like the Press-Telegram because limited budgets have forced them to narrow their focus back to their core audience, and re-examine their presentation of community news.

"Newspapers are on the ascendency, but they're going to look a lot different - both dailies and weeklies," he said. "You need to find your community."

Saltzgaver noted that "10 years ago, we were a public service" that residents counted on, as essential as electricity or water service. "I hope we can go back to that."

The discussion closed with questions submitted by the audience. Guild members took the opportunity to ask Archbold for his position on MediaNews' vehement demand to eliminate all employee job security. Archbold did not answer the question, but said that the company was "looking for any kind of flexibility that will help us to be more efficient." He added that newsroom positions - the very jobs being fought over - are in no danger whatsoever. But Press-Telegram writer Joe Segura points out that whether by layoffs, attrition, or outsourcing, newsroom positions have already been sacrificed at the paper, and now only 11 reporters fill a newsroom held many more only a few short years ago.

S-T commentary: At the close of the panel discussion, audience members were encouraged to become active participants, and help shape the discourse on what newspapers should be in the digital age. We agree completely. Our readers can take action now and click here to support local journalism.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Board action on Guild charges expected soon

The Guild received word today that action is expected soon on six unfair labor practice (ULP) charges it filed with the National Labor Relations Board against the Press-Telegram following the staff slashing in February.

The Guild charges the company with the unilateral elimination of copy and design positions without notification to and bargaining effects with the union; offering deals directly with impacted staffers in its transfer scheme and bypassing the employees' collective bargaining representative (the Guild); failing to give the union the opportunity to bargain the company's intent to eliminate a P-T sports reporter position in connection with it's sports coverage deal with the OCR; bad-faith bargaining when the company finally went to the table to negotiate over the layoffs after the fact; and failure to provide information to which the Guild is legally entitled.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“Are the people losing their voice?” *

That's just one of the pressing questions that will be asked of six news industry experts, including Press-Telegram executive editor Rich Archbold, at a discussion forum this Saturday (Nov. 15) from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at the Long Beach Main Library Auditorium, 101 Pacific Ave. “Press in Transition” is sponsored by The League of Women Voters. You can download their flyer here.

What will be the effect on citizenship and democracy if newspapers continue to decline? Are you engaged citizens or consumers of infotainment? What does the future hold for newspapers?

These are the kind of questions we get asked when we are out in the community talking with citizens about our fight to preserve journalism jobs in Long Beach.

Along with our editor, other panelists will be Douglas Shuit and Jeff Rabin, former LAT reporters; Neena Strichart, Signal Tribune publisher; Harry Salzgaver, executive director of the MediaNews-owned Gazette Newspapers and Dr. Danny Paskin, journalism professor at CSULB.

Though newspaper companies remain profitable, we're told the industry is in the tank. The bloodletting continues in the nation's newsrooms — over 13,000 newspaper jobs have been slashed this year — advertisers are fleeing (ad revenue is expected to drop by 11.5% this year) and readers are left holding newspapers pretty much devoid of local news they can use.

We're looking forward to answers to other questions sure to be asked. See you there.

* 13,000 newspaper job cuts now number 13,111: FishbowlLA checks in with journalist Erica Smith who is keeping track of the death by thousands of cuts to newspapers. Asks FBLA: "We can't have a democracy without a free press and we can't have a free press without paying them -- so what's in store for the future?" More

Just like old times – sorta

“The meltdown of Unisys in Torrance had one upside ... I got to see all the great people that made working at the P-T so fun. I was glad to see you all on Tuesday.” — Former P-T staffer

Friday, November 7, 2008

To newspaper readers everywhere

People snatched up extra copies of local and national newspapers Wednesday, eager for very bit of news and information about Tuesday's historic election. Post-election newspapers sales sky-rocketed and additional press runs were ordered. For those of you who stood in line waiting for your extra copies, a memo from your newspaper ...

To: You
From: Your newspaper

Dear You:

Every day, I was there for You, rain or shine, good times and bad. I was always available. Like a puppy, all I ever wanted was to please You.

Was it lively conversation You wanted? Cackling opinions? The latest news and gossip? I gave You all that. I even tried to keep up on all the sports and business stuff because I knew you cared about that, too.

Oh, we had so many beautiful years together. Sometimes I made you mad. Often, I moved you. But we always made up.

And then a few years ago you rewarded my loyalty by straying. You went elsewhere. You sought the company of others who, you thought, gave you something that I could not. Fickle and faithless, you went looking for something faster, newer and younger.

Oh, You.

I wondered, incessantly, had I failed you? Was it me?

And then one day this week, You wanted me again....
Read the full memo on Romenesko's Letters.

E&P's Joe Strupp wrote "So I guess print newspapers are not dead after all. Well, for one day at least."

Carefully preserved and stashed away, we can pull out our November 5, 2008 copy of our local newspaper to re-read, ponder, marvel over, talk about and share proudly with others months, maybe years from now. What online or broadcast story can do that?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sign our petition!

The online petition on our SoCal Media Guild Web site is now live. Quality journalism is something that benefits all of us, so please stop by and show your support!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More awards

Looks like today is the day for awards and recognition....

The Best

We'd like to congratulate the folks at the Press-Telegram and Daily News for their showing in the California Newspaper Publishers Association's Best Newspaper Contest.

In Long Beach, photographers Diandra Jay, Stephen Carr, and Scott Smeltzer were each recognized for their work, as was designer Wendy Dinsmore (who has since moved to the Breeze).

We haven't heard details on the Daily News awards yet, so if anyone has more information, let us know and we'll post it here!

Either way, congratulations to everyone. We've always asserted that LANG is full of outstanding journalists performing above-average work. It's nice to see a few of them get the recognition they deserve.

...and the rest

In addition to his scariest person in Long Beach honorific, William Dean Singleton earned himself another award today.

In case you didn't think the disconnect between business world and the reality was quite wide enough, we've gotten word that the MediaNews CEO has been lauded as the 2009 Community Cultural Enrichment Award Recipient by Denver's Mizel Museum.

Community....cultural....enrichment. Wow.

David Burgin, who worked for Singleton for 25 years, editing his papers in Dallas, Houston and Oakland, is on a long list of Singleton supporters. "If journalism had an award like a medal of honor, Dean should get it," said Burgin.

Predictable consequences

With the decline of journalism, so goes democracy - that's the opinion of Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff.

Indeed, the answer to the second part of my question is already emerging. When media companies cut journalists from the payrolls, our democracy suffers. From local businesses and politicians operating without scrutiny to President Bush launching a war based on lies, the ramifications of media cutbacks are painfully clear to anyone paying attention...

Naff acknowledges the rise of blogging, but points out that even the vast blogosphere has failed to fill the void left as the US newspaper industry self-implodes.

...we’re already seeing the consequences of a diminished press, including Sarah Palin’s refusal to grant interviews (supplicant journalists are even agreeing to the McCain campaign’s odious practice of confining reporters to pens at rallies and barring them from interviewing supporters).

The question is, how do we fix it?

Dubious awards

In this week's edition of The District Weekly, the crew devote their time to contemplating the scariest things in Long Beach, and two familiar names have made the cut.

In a tie for third place are Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group, and Harry Saltzgaver, Associate Publisher of MediaNews' Gazette Newspapers. The tongue-in-cheek skewering includes a nod to the Stress-Telegram (thanks guys!).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bellflower gets surprise visit

Press-Telegram reporter Joe Segura sent in the following:



Business staff writer Karen Robes Meeks returned to her roots Monday, telling the Bellflower City Council that the Press-Telegram isn't covering Long Beach area communities.

She also expressed sadness that the newspaper has abandoned its traditional base of community coverage, because it deserved coverage.

Samantha Gonzaga, who has moved on with another career effort, said in a prepared statement that she shares the concerns, adding that the company had reported a 34 percent increase in the second quarter net income."



Joe Segura added that the lack of coverage is weakening society's right to know what's happening in their communities.

Karen received a warm welcome from both council members and community residents, who expressed deep concern for the lack of coverage.

Friday, October 24, 2008

10/24 bargaining update

For all the promises and assurances that outsourcing rights are a philosophical prize for MediaNews and it has no plans to actually implement outsourcing in Long Beach, the company has rejected to offer even a temporary guarantee of job security for Press-Telegram employees. The Oct. 9 proposal for an 18-month freeze on outsourcing, followed by a renegotiation of the issue, was unequivocally rejected by MediaNews.

Recent comments by Dean Singleton, contemplating shipping ALL his news operations overseas, have undoubtedly shaken most MediaNews employees. The Guild however remains committed to this issue, because of the unanimous calls from our members, and will continue to fight this issue for our members, and our communities.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

AP backs off rate increase

The Associated Press has issued a moratorium on its planned rate increase, according to this article at paidContent.org. In addition, plans to create a "premium content" model that would charge subscribers additional fees has also been scrapped.

Do the math

Profits are a recurring theme here at the Stress-Telegram. With so many cuts to staff and coverage blamed on lost profits, a look at the financial health of the newspaper industry is only natural. But that job is easier said than done.

Unfortunately, MediaNews is now a privately-held company with no public disclosure of their finances, and a deal with bondholders last May put MediaNews completely under the radar. So hard numbers are now virtually impossible to find.

But there's one point that should be made. MediaNews has never claimed poverty in their negotiations with the Guild. They will cite the economy and falling revenues ad nauseam, but their statements never address their overall financial position. Part of the reason for that may be because if they did, the company would be legally obligated to open the books and support their claim. Instead, they belabor the financial angle as much as possible, dancing just under the point at which they'd have to show their hand.

At any rate, what do we do about those financials? Since we don't have access to MediaNews' documents, let's look at the rest of the industry.

Alan Mutter has an idea where things stand for the newspaper industry. We've said it before, and we'll say it again - the numbers might surprise you.

After producing operating earnings at an average rate of 27.3% between 2000 and 2007, the industry’s margin this year may average no better than 20%, says William Drewry, a managing director of the global media group of the UBS investment bank. Average earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were 24.6% in 2007, according to UBS.

That's right, 24.6% on average in 2007. That seems pretty good for an industry that's supposedly on death's doorstep.

Mutter continues with a comparison between one of the worst-performing newspapers, and stalwarts from other industries.

As proof of the industry’s amazing power to produce profits, you need look no further than its performance in the first three months of this year. Despite a 14.4% drop in industry-wide print advertising revenues in the first quarter, the average operating profits of the seven largest publicly held newspaper companies fell only two percentage points to 17.6% from 19.5% in the same period, according to Fresearch.Com.

To put this in perspective, Journal Register Co., a publisher that already has defaulted on its reckless debt, still generated a 16.9% operating margin in the last 12 months. That surpasses the margins in the same period of such companies as Exxon (15.7%), General Electric (14.2%), Boeing (8.7%), Wal-Mart (5.8%) and Amazon.Com (4.7%).


If all that's true, then what's the problem? Well, as others have reported time and time again, media conglomerates like MediaNews have been taking on massive amounts of debt for years. In fact, their problems predate the economic morass we're now facing.

The bottom line is that newspaper's current problems have less to do with the economy than simple bad judgment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

News workers say local copy editors vital for editorial quality

The following is a joint statement from the Southern California Media Guild/CWA 9400, the Northern California Media Workers Guild, and the San Jose Newspaper Guild.

A MediaNews proposal to wipe out copy desks at newspapers across the country threatens not only hundreds of jobs, but also quality and credibility – values the beleaguered newspaper industry needs now more than ever, Guild-represented newsroom workers at the company's California newspapers said Tuesday.

Dean Singleton, CEO of the Denver, Colo., chain, disclosed to a publishers' group in Florida on Monday that MediaNews management is looking to combine all its news desks into one or more consolidated copy-editing centers at locations yet to be named – possibly overseas.

The company's holdings include 54 dailies in 11 states. Its California Guild-covered papers include the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, Long Beach Press-Telegram and Los Angeles Daily News.

“One thing we're exploring is having one news desk for all of our newspapers in MediaNews ... maybe even offshore,” Singleton said during his speech, according to an account by the Associated Press.

The speech was the first most MediaNews employees had heard of the idea. There has been no mention of moving to a single national copy desk during current contract negotiations at two of our biggest bargaining units, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

“We understand the need for newsrooms to operate more efficiently in tough economic times,” said Sara Steffens, chair of the BANG-EB bargaining unit. “But outsourcing copy-editors is a terrible idea. The move would damage beyond repair the things readers and advertisers value most about newspapers: Our wealth of local knowledge, and our commitment to accuracy and fact-checking.”

Sylvia Ulloa, a page designer at the San Jose Mercury News and president of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, said the local connection is vital.

“People are attached to their newspapers because they are part of the community,” she said. “The people who write and edit the San Jose Mercury News know Silicon Valley because this is where we live. That knowledge is not something you can replace with cheap, off-shored editing. If MediaNews keeps cutting its ties and its commitments to the communities it serves, both readers and advertisers will go elsewhere. That doesn't seem like a strategy for the future.”

The company has been pushing for anything-goes contract language to allow unlimited outsourcing at both bargaining units. But in Long Beach, where the talks have been under way for nearly two years, management stopped short of sending the Press-Telegram copy editing and design functions offshore when it moved that work and consolidated it with the non-union Torrance Daily Breeze.

“Although the company claims it has no current plans to outsource editorial work,” said Vicki Di Paolo, VP CWA Local 9400/Southern California Media Guild, “our concern is the paper would no longer have veteran journalists with a connection to and knowledge of the Long Beach community.”

Leaders of the California Guild units said they intend to seek details of the consolidation plans and will fight to preserve quality jobs and quality journalism.

“We are committed to seeking a new and productive dialogue with MediaNews management, no matter how difficult these surprise statements to outside groups make that seem,” said Carl Hall, local representative of the Northern California Media Workers Guild.

In the BANG-East Bay contract talks just getting started, Guild negotiators have proposed this language for our new labor agreement: "The Company and the Guild agree to the mutual goal of maintaining editorial quality as the paramount concern in all business decisions affecting the editorial product."

The notion of copy-desk consolidation has prompted influential industry experts and professional news associations to question whether MediaNews management may be going too far with its cost-cutting strategies.

The American Copy Editor Society issued a statement yesterday questioning the premise of the MediaNews approach: "Sending copy editing overseas is a sure way to kill a paper's credibility."

“Some things just can't be measured in terms of money,” the ACES statement continued. “It's easy to say that you'll save thousands of dollars by hiring overseas workers to edit your copy. It's not so easy to say how much that loss of credibility is going to cost you when they miss errors a local person would have caught. But cost you it will.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Now this doesn't bode well for any of us... *

In a meeting Monday with the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, MediaNews honcho Dean Singleton told attendees that they should examine outsourcing as much of their operations as possible.

"One thing we're exploring is having one news desk for all of our newspapers in MediaNews ... maybe even offshore."
If you're even an occasional visitor to the Stress-Telegram, you know about the contract negotiations between the staffers and management at the Long Beach Press-Telegram , 20 months of bargaining, pushing back against the pivotal issue that has brought us to near-impasse: the company's demand for outsourcing powers in all news departments, a proposal described by management as "providing flexibility" the company may need and not something that they're actually considering at this time.

Well, now we know. But we knew it all along, really.

Sure, there are those within LANG newsrooms (and elsewhere) who still think fears over outsourcing are contrived, and news operations will always be sacrosanct. The following Singleton quote may come as a shock.
"If you need to offshore it, offshore it."
Singleton said consultants have already recommended MediaNews begin moving editorial operations overseas - and as disturbing as that may be, one should not overlook the fact that MediaNews has apparently already invested time and money into analyzing the outsourcing of its news operations, with predictably sanguine results.

There are other voices, most commonly out of the newsrooms, that bemoan MediaNews' desperate quest for pre-internet era profit margins - and the declining quality of the barebones news operations being passed off to customers. Readers and advertisers know they're seeing less value for their money, and are responding accordingly.

Cutting quality further isn't going to improve the company's profitability, any more than you can save a sinking ship by throwing people overboard.

The bottom line here is that outsourcing is a very real concern, and it's going to take all of us together to convince the company that quality journalism has more value than journalism done on the cheap.

* ACES blasts Singleton:
"Some things just can't be measured in terms of money. It's easy to say that you'll save thousands of dollars by hiring overseas workers to edit your copy. It's not so easy to say how much that loss of credibility is going to cost you when they miss errors a local person would have caught. But cost you it will.
[snip]
"Newspapers are still the place to go for the authoritative word on your community. If we lose that authoritative voice, we may as well outsource our readership as well, because local readers, not to mention advertisers, won't find any value in what our publications have to say."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Advice from Seymour Hersh

Press-Telegram steward and reporter Joe Segura sent in the following:

During a visit to Long Beach State, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Seymour M. Hersh put a great part of the blame on the downfall of journalism nationally on the shoulders of corporate owners insisting on bigger profits.

The bigger the profits, the more butchering newspapers do in the newsroom.

"The problem is that newspapers are owned by corporations," he said, adding he knew of newspaper owners who "would look at 1 or 2 percent as a good enough profit." Now, he added, the profits corporations seek are in the 20 percent range.

Hersh said this in response to a question by former Press-Telegram publisher Mark Stevens, who ironically stood quietly by while the local newspaper had its ranks ravaged.


Later, while signing a copy of his book "Chain of Command", he told Southern California Media Guild/CWA Local 9400 steward Joe Segura that cuts in the newspaper industry are hurting the country's future — both on the national and local levels.
"It's terrible," he added. "It's becoming more difficult to keep on top of what's happening in local government, and that's not good."

Hersh signed a paperback copy of his book: "For the Press-Telegram staff – Please keep the faith, it's a great business."

* S-T note: Hersh, an investigative reporter based in Washington, DC, is a regular contributor to "The New Yorker" magazine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Congratulations Ms. Cavanaugh *

As reported earlier this week by LA Observed and Gary Scott, Los Angeles Daily News reporter Kerry Cavanaugh has been promoted to the editorial dept.

Kerry tells us via email that she's looking forward to her new role as editorial writer.

"After nearly ten years of reporting, I'm excited to try something new and this will be a good challenge - working on editorials will stretch my mind and my writing skills."

Although the move means that the former CWA 9400 steward will have to give up her union activities, Kerry says she's still a supporter and believer, and knows that others will pick up where she left off.

"Unfortunately I'll have to leave the union, but there's a good crew of Guild folks in the newsroom who will carry on organizing and bargaining preparations."

We know Kerry is going to do great things for the DN's editorial pages, just as she did helping us and her co-workers in her time as a steward. We'd like to wish Kerry continued success in her new career as an editorial writer.


* Also being promoted is Jason Kandel, a strong supporter of Kerry's leadership and an activist she could count on to help her with union matters. (They really are a team – they're married!) We wish him all the best in his new position as online news editor. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

10/9 bargaining update

Today's session saw negotiations travel in new directions, as the team proposed a temporary, 18-month hiatus on any new outsourcing language, with the option for both parties to re-examine the issue later.

MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga said the proposal was "not something we anticipated," but did not rule out the possibility of examining the issue further.

The proposal comes in response to the company's repeated claims that no immediate plans exist for additional outsourcing. The Guild team feels that this proposal gives members the immediate security they need, but allows the company long term flexibility over staffing. This need for latitude has been a constant obstacle in negotiations, so hopefully this joint compromise will provide an avenue for both parties to accomplish their goals.

In terms of wages, the company rejected our proposed first year increase of 3.5%.

The full bargaining update is also available in the member's only section of our LANG9400.com forums. The member's only section is limited to (you guessed it) Guild members, so we can discuss details that aren't available on the blog.

If you have questions or comments on the new proposal, log in and join the discussion.

U-T plans confirmed

According to this article at the onebigbang.org Web site, those San Diego Union-Tribune purchase rumors have been confirmed by SignOnSanDiego.com.

But some industry experts believe that MediaNews' debt levels make taking on another purchase a less-than-wise idea, no matter how attractive it may be for MediaNews to expand their regional monopoly.

Newspaper analyst Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute in Florida said financing could be an issue for both MediaNews and Tribune, which is saddled with $12.5 billion in debt. Much of that is related to a complex deal in which real estate billionaire Sam Zell took the Chicago-based company private last year.

“They would appear to have their hands full with the papers they have and the debt load they have,” Edmonds said.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

U-T rumors continue*

Despite claims by MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton that buying more newspapers (and adding to the already-ludicrous debt behind the company's fiscal chemotherapy regimen of incessant layoffs and cutbacks) is not in the company's plans, it looks like that might be exactly what's happening after all.

According to this voiceofsandiego.org article, MediaNews is one of four companies interested in purchasing the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Although there's not too much in the way of details, the article does offer a rather trenchant analysis of the U-T's odds if a MediaNews purchase goes through.

The MediaNews newspapers tend not to be known for their quality, although its flagship paper -- The Denver Post -- won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Columbine High School massacre.

Several years ago, Singleton declared that he wanted to make The Denver Post one of the nation's premier newspapers and planned to hire 200 new newsroom employees, said Michael Roberts, who covers the media for Westword, a Denver alternative weekly.

But the economy's troubles spelled the end of Singleton's hopes, Roberts said. He added that the publisher's cost-cutting in the Bay Area could be a sign of the future at the U-T if MediaNews buys it.
* More on MediaNews' interest in the U-T here and E&P's take on a MN purchase here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mr. Smith leaves Washington

Steve Smith, editor of the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, has resigned from the paper. According to this article at Knight Digital Media Center, the decision came in response to the current attitudes of media ownership.

“It is time to stop standing behind our salaries, our bonuses and our pensions and stand up and say what needs to be said”—that short-term thinking and cutbacks are “dooming our organizations to irrelevance and causing irreparable harm to our systems and society without consideration of the larger loss,” Smith said.

Many newsroom employees have expressed similar thoughts over the last few years, but it seems few owners are willing to take those concerns to heart. In the meantime, what we have is more of the same quick-dollar myopathy and lack of vision that's slashed core-business operations at a time when owners should be investing in their product and business.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Let's watch the debate!

The gang will be headed down to the Daily Grill, across from the Arco Towers, to watch the VP debate and maybe have a drink or two. If you're in the mood for politics and socializing, come on out and join us.

This isn't an "official" event, just a chance to hang out and have some fun, so no shop talk - just politics and partisan bickering ;)

Hope to see you there!

Congressional support for local journalism

We're proud to announce that Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez has joined the community of civic leaders, activists, workers, and newspaper readers that are standing up to support local journalism and the preservation of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Here's a few excerpts from her letter to the company:

I am writing about an issue that, sadly, has led me to question whether I should place advertisements in the Press-Telegram at this time.

I have been following news reports of labor negotiations underway at the paper. I have also heard from several constituents...who are deeply concerned with the course that the negotiations are taking.

I write to ask that you review the MediaNews Group's position on negotiations with the employees at the Press-Telegram to see if fairer salary increases and local job protections can be provided.
We're extremely grateful to Congresswoman Sanchez for her support. The call to end MediaNews' campaign against journalism gets louder every day, as more and more people take a look at what's happening and say "no more."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Singleton's interviews

In an interview with paidcontent.org writer David Kaplan, MediaNews capo Dean Singleton blames his woes on the economy, defends the Associated Press, and promises to reorganize MediaNews' advertising sales into a single entity.

“The biggest thing we need right now is an improved economy, because at least 60 percent of the revenue problem we’re facing today is good-old fashioned economic recession.”


And earlier, talking with Editor and Publisher, Singleton discussed the upcoming presidential election, saying neither candidate has captured his support, but many of his MediaNews editors are leaning towards Barack Obama.

He said neither Obama nor McCain would make his top list for what is essentially "the next CEO of the country."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Talks continue on outsourcing and wages

P-T Bargaining update: Outsourcing continues to be a sticking point for the company, who remain doggedly insistent on securing the right to fire P-T employees at will and farm out the work.

Despite the company's assertion that "we're on the cusp of a depression" and "we cannot bury our heads in the sand", no reasonable explanation was given for rumors that the company — famously leveraged to near bankruptcy by its relentless acquisitions —may be considering the purchase of yet another paper, The San Diego Tribune-Union. The rumors follow(s) last month's Democratic National Convention (in Denver), where the company's largess came in the form of a $1.5 million party for (media) attendees.

The bargaining team came to the table with a revised proposal that reduced annual merit pay increases by half, but that was still insufficient for the company, who offered nothing in return and went so far as to attempt to kill any further negotiations on the issues, stating that he saw "no reason to schedule another date".

We disagreed. The parties go back at the table Oct. 9.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Best wishes for Sam

The sad day has finally arrived. Tomorrow marks the end of the road for Sam Gonzaga's tenure at the Press-Telegram.

We'd like to wish her the best as she continues her journey, and many more happy successes. The loss of such a talented reporter is going to be quickly felt, not only in the newsroom, but among the communities she covers.

Karen Robes and Steve Carr offered the following:

Samantha Gonzaga is one of the most versatile reporters in the newsroom. She started at the paper 4 years ago, working her way up from general assignment weekend reporter, to a beat covering five cities - Downey, Cerritos, Bellflower, Lakewood and Paramount. Sam could have chosen a smaller beat, but she didn't, because of her dedication and determination to make sure all our communities are represented equally. Sam has covered everything from the always-riveting Leadership Long Beach, Long Beach Library foundation and kiddies on the beach. Also covered numerous gang shootings in the street, court sentencings, and was witness to the largest wildfire on Catalina Island. We will all miss Sam's energy and twisted sense of humor in the newsroom.

Let's all wish he luck in her new venture in urban planning.


Come out to the Puka Bar tomorrow to say farewell and good luck to Samantha. We're told the shindig starts at 8. Looks like we got some bad info. Turns out the party's over and done with already.

Photo by Steven Georges

Another Southland MN expansion?

Memo to us in July: "MediaNews is not currently looking to acquire more newspapers." But today San Diego Union-Tribune reporters spotted MNG boss Dean Singleton "prowling the halls" of the paper raising speculation that he may be shopping again.

MediaNews is the largest publisher of daily newspapers in California (29). According to Singleton, consolidation within the industry is inevitable. Well, if MN continues to gobble up CA dailies, we as stakeholders should go Guild state-wide to ensure our state's newspapers don't all end up penny shoppers.

Illustration courtesy of Free Press under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Our new Web site

We'd like to announce the launch of our new Web site, lang9400.com

It's got online tools, news, information, and other resources for Guild members - including the lang9400.com forums. The forums have much more depth than a blog comment system.

Registration is free and painless, and registered users will be able to post their own discussion topics - but certain areas are for Guild members only!

Stop by and check it out, and stay tuned for more information on upcoming events!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another one gone

Press-Telegram reporter Samantha Gonzaga has given her two weeks notice today, according to P-T staffers.

We cannot verify it, but an email we received from the P-T newsroom states that Gonzaga is headed to grad school, and will study urban planning at Cal Poly Pomona.

Although this is bad news for the Press-Telegram, few are surprised at the loss of yet another employee from a newsroom that has faced an ever-more-hostile employer and deteriorating working environment.

It's been suggested that, like the positions vacated by Wendy Thomas Russell and Joe Stevens, Gonzaga's slot will be frozen and no replacement hired. In a recent discussion however, management insisted that this is not the case, and any Press-Telegram personnel (including management) who have stated otherwise are mistaken. We await further information on this situation. If you hear anything, please pass it along.

As for Gonzaga, one staffer called the news "devastating to the newsroom."

We are still investigating the details, and will post more information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not that funny



Then...




Washington Post comics blogger Michael Cavna examines Doonesbury's take on the newspaper industry.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Slogans, singers and petition signers

Nothing's better than a Saturday afternoon BBQ. Especially one with a with a hundred or so political, community and union activists willing to sign our petition in support of quality journalism and quality jobs at the Press-Telegram.

We were certainly among friends today at the SoCal Democrats BBQ and Rally for Barack Obama at the Recreation Park Bandshell at 7th and Park, complete with entertainment and mouth-watering food stuffs. In the crowd were representatives from the Obama campaign, LB mayor Bob Foster, California State Party Chair Art Torres, Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook.

It's a great feeling knowing people in the community (many of them subscribers to the P-T) really care about the employer's contract proposal that threatens our jobs – and our beloved paper.

Most we talked to agree that outsourcing local news-gathering is not an acceptable solution to the problems facing MediaNews – at least not for the readers who depend on the work of qualified locally-based journalists.

We lost some pens along the way, but it was a great day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lakewood City Council voices concerns over declining coverge

Members of our bargaining unit met with the Lakewood City Council Tuesday to ask for the city's support in our fight to preserve local journalism.

Press-Telegram reporters Joe Segura and Karen Robes addressed the council on behalf of their fellow journalists. Robes once covered Lakewood for the paper, and was a familiar face to many on the council. The frank description of conditions inside the newsroom led city officials to express their own sense of disappointment and frustration over the declining coverage and quality of the Press-Telegram.

Although the Ralph M. Brown Act limits the ability of local government to address unscheduled items, council members asked that the Guild meet with city officials to examine the issue further and determine how the city might help protect community journalism.

We'd like to thank the Lakewood City Council for allowing us the time to speak with them, and for their support. Civic leaders understand that local journalism is a key part of any community. The loss of reporters and coverage can't help but negatively impact us all.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Carson mayor adds his support


We'd like to thank Carson Mayor Jim Dear for taking the time to examine the issues facing the Press-Telegram, and lending his support to the fight for quality journalism in our communities.

The following is an excerpt from his letter to the company:


The residents of the city of Carson are served by the Press Telegram. Therefore we have a major stake in the way the news is reported. We are concerned with the recent layoffs and staff reductions. It is important to me and the readers to have local news and events reported accurately and in detail. We expect and need to know what is happening in our community.

MediaNews has an inherent responsibility to its readers to serve the communities in which it reports on. I want to be confident that the local news is reported by local Press Telegram reporters who are in touch with the community.

It is understood that the newspaper industry as a whole has seen many changes and must adapt to new technologies to remain viable. However, in doing so MediaNews still enjoys significant profits. It is unreasonable to expect workers to adapt to changes in the way their work is done, be responsible for more reporting because of the shrinking newsroom and then see no increase in compensation.


The support of leaders like Jim Dear is crucial to the fight to preserve local journalism. Mayor Dear joins our coalition of leaders, activists, and community members calling for an end to the short-sighted cuts and decisions that not only hurt the journalists and the community, but which ultimately end up hurting the company, when frustration over content drives readers to other news sources.

If you're interested in learning more, or lending your support, we'd love to hear from you.

Together we can make a difference!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Another departure


We've gotten word that Craig Howie, copy editor at the Torrance Daily Breeze and former copy chief at the Press-Telegram, will be leaving the company to pursue other opportunities, citing "industry conditions" as his motivation.

Howie becomes the latest MediaNews staffer to depart the company, already plagued by layoffs and attrition.

The loss of so many valuable personnel has become an all-too-common refrain for LANG. We contacted Howie to get a little more information, and he sent us this:

So I just wanna say thanks to all the PT bods past and present and all at the Breeze, both to the ones I'll keep up with and the ones who inevitably will drift away. Newsroom staffers are always great people and sincerely I wish all of you the best. Perhaps one thing that's rarely mentioned when dealing with the whole sad industry situation is battered pride, but all of my colleagues at all times maintained pride in their work, pride in their colleagues and pride in their organization. In better times, their worth will be recognized. I sincerely hope. Till then, see ya.


We'd like to wish Craig success wherever the future takes him. His humor and dedication will surely be missed.

Come on out!

Photo by Steve Carr

Our community action campaign is in full swing, and by request, here's some more information on how you can get involved.

Joe Segura, seen here talking with former Long Beach City Councilman Frank Colonna, is one of our stewards, and the point man for our community outreach campaign. If you'd like to learn more, or would like to help us out, you can reach Joe at

chess4joe@yahoo.com

We'd love to hear from you!

Monday, September 1, 2008

KPFK examines P-T struggle

Radio Pacifica's Los Angeles station, 90.7 KPFK, featured a segment on our Solidarity Rally, and the issues facing the Press-Telegram, during last Friday's Midday News program.

The result was a pretty thorough look at the relationship between MediaNews, its employees, and the local communities that have seen coverage and quality stripped out of their daily newspaper in the name of short-term profits.

Timothy Karr, campaign director for media reform advocate Free Press, points out that layoffs and declining coverage are largely unrelated to oft-cited economic woes, but rather a means of maximizing short term profits.

They try to squeeze their costs down, so that they have larger revenues. They have the capacity to better serve their communities - to produce better, more local, more independent journalism - but they don't have the will, because these companies are often run by accountants and bean counters, who are outside of that community.

Karr also cited some industry numbers to support the argument that newspapers are still profitable, despite the claims of newspaper owners like MediaNews.

If you look at the profit margins of newspapers, they're still recording in excess of 15 percent annual profit margins, so there's still money that's being made through the process or business of journalism. The problem is that a lot of these companies are now owned by large conglomerates, who are more concerned about quarterly earnings than they are about their public obligation to serve their communities.

The P-T segment starts at 11:50 in the program. You can listen to the broadcast, or just download it for later.

We highly encourage anyone interested in learning more about the struggle local journalists and communities are facing to tune in and listen. The news might be surprising.

Friday, August 29, 2008

8/28 bargaining update

The latest bargaining update is out, and the results are cautiously optimistic. Despite their adamant declarations, the company has finally shown signs of wiggle room on their outsourcing proposal. Although the demands themselves haven't changed, the company proposal now includes additional benefits for employees laid off as a result of outsourcing. The benefits include additional severance pay, extended medical coverage, and tuition reimbursement.

According to the negotiating team, MediaNews believes that the language isn't even necessary if they choose to begin outsourcing newsroom jobs. The only reason they want it, said negotiator Jim Janiga, is to eliminate the Guild's ability to fight back.

Mention was also made of our ongoing efforts to educate the community and build a coalition of civic and political groups opposed to the loss of quality local journalism, saying the campaign "exacerbates the problem" for the company.

Although it's not much, the company's willingness to revisit their outsourcing proposal can only be a taken as a positive development. Clearly, more needs to be done, and the Guild is developing plans for the next round of community actions. We'll post details as soon as they're available. If you can spare an hour or two, once or twice a month, it would certainly bolster our efforts. Contact us at lbguild9400@gmail.com for more information.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Solidarity in action


KPFK/Pacifica Radio's Leilani Albano, at left, interviewed P-T city hall reporter Paul Eakins (center) and community activist and Long Beach resident Ken Scherer (right) at today's Solidarity Rally in support of P-T workers. Carrying a rally sign behind Paul is Bianca Roman, field deputy for Long Beach Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal.


We had a pretty good turnout to today's rally. In addition to the regular "civilians" who showed up, we were met by members of the labor community, as well as staff representing city leadership. The sun was shining, the cars were honking, and the city was definitely listening.

The community really seems to be getting the message and lending their support, judging by the number of horns and cheers from passersby we heard today.

Thanks to everyone for coming out, and standing with us. Your support was a positive sign of what we can accomplish together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Make yourself heard

As you may have already heard, tomorrow's the day of our Solidarity Rally. Area residents and other supporters are coming out to mark their concern and dedication to local journalism, and justice for the journalists that serve their community.

The rally is scheduled for noon tomorrow, August 28, at the Arco Towers on Ocean Boulevard. If you have a few minutes to stop by, it would mean a lot to us and the Press-Telegram employees struggling to serve their communities despite crippling layoffs and draconian demands by company management.

The rally only lasts for an hour. Stop by and grab a sign, or just drive by and honk. We hope everyone will come out to show their support for this crucial issue.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The facts about those February ‘transfers’

“I have become so disillusioned with the Guild. It has no backbone. It did nothing for those of us who were transferred or for those who were laid off despite more seniority.”

We were fairly surprised to see the events from February/March described this way in a comment to one of our recent posts because well, we thought word might have gotten out there about what the Guild has been doing about the so-called transfers. But the sentiment quoted here has cropped up more than a couple of times lately, and it's something we feel needs to be addressed, because the truth is we have been working on this issue from day one, and are still fighting on behalf of those affected by MediaNews' LANG decision.

There are some misconceptions floating around on the subject. The biggest of which is that we didn't “stop” the transfers/layoffs. That aspect is perhaps the hardest to understand, because it's partially true. We didn't stop the layoffs. We couldn't. It was never an option. Under federal law, companies have the right to determine the size of their staffs. Most companies however, recognize their legal obligations to bargain over the effects of needed layoffs with their unions. We believe this company chose not to follow the rules.

Management ultimately will always have the final say over what happens to their company. No one can “prevent” layoffs from happening. The role of any worker's rights advocate is to provide remedy and if necessary, challenge company actions. In other words, our job is to monitor their conduct, enforce the contract and pursue legal remedy when employer actions break the rules. When things go wrong, we're there to set them right.

There isn't a group in the country that can go to work with you, hold your hand, and make sure nothing bad ever happens. What we can do is make sure that if the rules are broken, the company won't get away with it without challenge. That's what we're doing now — challenging the company's action.

The company laid off the CEs and designers. People were “invited” to apply. Logic says if you have to interview, then you don't have the job. If you don't have the job, you can't be transferred.

It boils down to notification and our challenge under specific coverage language of the contract. The company didn't give us warning of its plans, and perhaps it thought it could skirt the law by calling the moves “transfers”. We challenged the company's actions, filed a grievance immediately and, dissatisfied with the company's position, moved the case to the legal arena.


But like all dealings involving big business (MediaNews) and the government (NLRB), justice comes slowly. Maybe we didn't emphasize this enough before, but understand that this issue is far from over. We continue to challenge the company's February move via all legal channels available. 

Bottom line? The Guild did then — and continues to do now —what it must do for P-T members “transfered”. Contact us if you you're interested in the details of the case. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

A helping hand – sort of

Members of the Southern California Media Guild were walking a informational picket line again Saturday, drumming up more support for our effort to get a fair contract with MediaNews. We were at a Signal Hill car dealership, and a representative gave the union activists a commitment to send a message of concern to company officials.

That's standard, according to the picketing veterans. What was unusual, however, was another tidbit of advice.

The dealership representative — sounding somewhat like a labor strategist — strongly suggested that a neighboring dealership might also be a good strategic spot for picketing! We're taking the "generous" advice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The MoJo mode

We've heard chatter about a MediaNews “mobile journalist” program called the MoJo Initivative.

The idea isn't new: other news organizations, Gannett being among the first, have undertaken programs that provide mobile kits (laptops, audio recorders, video and/or digital cameras, cell phones and Internet access) to people willing to work out of their home or cars.

With journalists working from the field instead of the newsroom, media companies can significantly cut overhead, needing only a small office to house assignment,news and web editors with maybe a few additional desks reporters can share. For example, The Record in Hackensack, N.J reported recently that it was moving out of Hackensack (savings: $2.4 milion), that most of the news staff would become mobile journalists, working from the field, while others would also relocate to one of the paper's eight weekly newspaper sites. “They will share desks as they are rarely in the office. The office/work concept is called ‘hoteling’. Employees actually reserve desk time to cut down on the number of desks and square footage needed.”

There are up-sides for reporters and photographers doing mobile journalism: most want the training and the equipment to hone their skills so as to be all-platform. Almost all understand that “technology has made people more mobile, and journalism has to react.” Journalism from Inside a Car

But the down-side may be that with more and more journalists expected to work remotely, employers may eventually seek to cut the umbilical chord (but not editorial oversight, hopefully) and sever the employer-employee relationship entirely. The line between a staff journalist and a freelance journalist that works from home is virtually nonexistent - except for the compensation and benefits paid to the staffer. The working conditions, the work itself, and all the rest of the traditional differences are essentially erased once you separate the journalist from the newsroom. Or so it would seem. What do you think?

Are you already operating in the mojo mode? How is it working for you?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Outsourcing, big media, and advertorials

A quick round up:

Advertorials

MediaNews is outsourcing some of its advertorial production to India. The Daily News Group, which publishes several free weeklies in BANG territory, is sending editing and design of an advertorial section that's distributed in their weeklies (and in some daily editions of the San Jose Mercury News) to Express KCS, out of Gurgeon, India.

Perhaps anticipating the public reaction to such a move, the MediaNews financial officer (and the fact that newspapers are now relying on financial managers to explain newspaper content speaks volumes all by itself) told Newspapers & Technology that the move means, well...nothing at all.

“It’s a toe in the water, and it’s not a shot across the bow....It behooves us to find ways to optimize our operations, but we have no plans to outsource any of our news."
More Advertorials

Speaking of advertorial content, even though newsrooom jobs are being reduced, those advertorial pages are the only LANG content that seems to be expanding.

Big Media

We've all seen how consolidation has benefited local media. StopBigMedia.com has an online petition to veto the FCC's recent decision to relax the rules on media ownership even further.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No ‘garden party’ here

For Long Beach MediaNews staffers in bargaining for a new contract since February 2007, the news today that Dean Singleton will sponsor a $1.5 million media party Saturday night at Elitch Gardens, a big Denver theme park, in advance of the Democratic National Convention, came as a collective blow to the stomach to his workers here. P-T reporter Joe Segura put it this way:

At the bargaining table, there have been frustrating periods, as MediaNews hammered away about its woes. There’s a downturn in revenues, we were told repeatedly. The Internet is bleeding the industry, according to the theme. And so on.

MediaNews managers look you in the eye, and repeat the same line, hitting their chests, while chiding us for not looking at the frigid facts of finances. We’ve been patient at the bargaining table, as we chipped away with attempts to get a clear picture of the company’s true fiscal status.

A large slice of that picture was posted Monday on LAObserved. It’s money that could have been invested in more reporters, in better wages, in updated equipment. It’s money from the profits we earned for the company.

And to be so reckless with the resources only adds to the profile of a callous company attitude that's indifferent about its responsibilities to the communities it “serves” and to its loyal workers

Friday, August 15, 2008

Facing the future together

The Guild's bargaining unit at the Minneapolis Star Tribune announced that they've reached an agreement with company management.

The deal, which includes a 16-month wage freeze, was approved after negotiations that included an honest appraisal of the company's finances, according to MinnPost.com writer David Brauer.

Thanks to a confidential look at the paper's books earlier this year, the union doesn't deny the Strib's precarious financial position — though the Guild leaders ruefully note "if business education sessions taught us one thing, [newspaper] sales bring on crushing debt. And crushing debt is why we find ourselves in this position."

The contract isn't enviable. A wage freeze is never accepted without a lot of consideration by the membership. So it's amazing to see just what can be accomplished when each side approaches negotiations honestly and with respect for the "other team." Clearly the Star Tribune employees weren't happy to wait almost two years before seeing a raise, but when the company had the integrity to demonstrate the financial need for serious cost-cutting, the employees overwhelmingly voted to support the employer and share in the necessary sacrifice that will enable them to weather the current economic storm together. A wage freeze is only part of the cost-cutting initiative, which also puts several open Guild and management positions on a hiring freeze, and adjustments to overtime and differential compensation.

More info at the Star Tribune blog here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Benjamin Villa

We've been told that Benjamin Villa, father of our own Ben Villa, passed away yesterday.

David Feenstra provided the following: "He was a lifelong Angels and Lakers fan, and much to Ben's dismay he loved USC instead of UCLA. He was surrounded by his loved ones when he passed. He was a funny guy, and full of life."

We'd like to offer our condolences to Ben and his family during this tragedy.

Deja Vu?

"Advertising at the emaciated newspaper has shriveled to historically low levels. Its staff has shrunken to a fifth of its former size. Its readership has fallen by almost half. The presses have been shipped out. The building is up for sale..."

So goes the story of a newspaper in decline over the past decade. No, not the Press-Telegram. This one's the San Mateo County Times, also a MediaNews paper. As documented by Alan Mutter, the story is disturbingly familiar to anyone working in LANG.

The 10-person staff is about a fifth of the 48 editorial employees who worked there when MediaNews bought the paper a dozen years ago.

...the shrinking paper and its website are backfilled with news from MediaNews papers in other counties – including those located on the other side of the bay. With fewer staffers now than two months ago, local stories will be scarcer than ever.
Although economics are often cited as the cause for the rampant cuts, Mutter also notes that reducing content was the MediaNews model from day one:
Dean’s forward-thinking idea back then was to acquire and consolidate neighboring newspapers in a geographic area, so he could enhance the value of the assets by eliminating redundancies to pare costs to boost profits. He also had plans to share content among papers to avoid having multiple correspondents covering the same story, but there were hopes that at least a portion of the savings would go toward doing some of stories that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten done.
The question then is how much of a role does the loss of local identity and content play in the declining circulation - and the subsequent revenues that are directly tied to circulation.

It's entirely possible that today's economic environment is in no small part a refutation of the consolidation model. The market has spoken ... is anyone going to listen?

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A note from The Stress-Telegram:

We (Southern California Media Guild) opened this blog up to unmoderated comments — unlike most of the other media blogs out there — as an experiment. Because we represent journalists, we understand the need for transparency and strive to maintain an open dialogue with our members and other LANG workers.

Right now, that experiment is failing. The last few days have seen a deluge of anonymous personal attacks and other comments that don't reflect the professionalism of our members or our industry. Looking at our web stats, it's obvious that the majority of these comments are the work of a small but active minority of our visitors. Nonetheless, it's a problem for us.

If the trend continues we will return to a moderated system. It's unfortunate that a few can ruin it for the many, but we won't allow our blog to become an outlet for personal attacks or insults, and spam.