Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What a difference a year and three weeks make

Around this time last year, P-T staffers were settling into our new Arco Tower digs. Next month, the advertising staff will vacate their 12th floor. Half will move in with editorial staff on the 13th floor, while the rest will be relocated at the plaza level P-T offices.

The word is, MNG plans to sublease the 12th floor. No confirmation yet on future plans.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Newsroom cuts hurt

The cuts in staffing that results in reduced content and diminished quality isn't just happening in Long Beach. 

The Monterey County Weekly lays out some MediaNews financials (2007 revenues were up 59% from the previous year) at the beginning of its story about the recent cuts at the Monterey Herald where MediaNews continues to gut that newsroom.

We know what continued cuts can do. When MediaNews took control of our paper we had 230 in the newsroom. In 2007, we had 82. Today we have 51. Our circulation has plummeted too. There is a connection.

MediaNews is making money, but for how long? Combining or dropping sections and cutting staff to save newsprint and money has not gone unnoticed by the readers. They will go elsewhere for real local news and information. We'd rather they didn't.

After all, important information, news and opinion is what a newspaper should provide. It shouldn't exist merely to provide it's owner with over a million bucks in annual compensation and "a minimum annual raise of 5 percent".

The company's 0% wage offer is an insult to those of us that work so hard to provide quality journalism to our communities. We deserve more.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New publisher at the Daily Breeze

He's Mark Ficarra, according to this on the DB's website. MN exec Liz Gaier, who took over as publisher when Media News Group purchased the DB at the end of 2006, goes back to her corporate responsibilities as senior vice president of new business development.

LAT editor took a stand in budget clash

Yet another leadership crisis at the Los Angeles Times was provoked when Jim O'Shea was ousted yesterday for not being "realistic given the economic realities of the news business", according to Tribune publisher David Hiller.

But editor Jim O'Shea wrote in his exit memo to the staff, "I disagree completely with the way that this company allocates resources to its newsrooms, not just here but at Tribune newspapers all around the country."

The surprising news out of LA dramatically illustrates the differences that exist between many newspaper owners and their editors about how a newspaper's resources should be allocated. It's fairly evident that newspaper companies cannot cut their way to profit. On the other hand, they can't spend their way out of their economic problems either. So what's the fix? More cuts?

Not necessarily. O'Shea writes "Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and Web sites."

AJR's Rem Reider applauds O'Shea's truth-telling stand, writing "O'Shea made the case that there has to be a better way, one that would tap into the talents of journalists to help solve the problem rather than treating them as unsophisticated children who simply don't understand the real world."

Right on!

One big organizing summit

From Media News Monitor: More than a dozen working members and Guild staff from around the country will gather in Oakland next week for a novel mobilization project spearheaded by Eric Geist, organizing director at The Newspaper Guild-CWA sector headquarters in Washington, D.C. Geist will join John Dugan, head of organizing for the Communications Workers of America District 9, in leading a series of mobilization workshops and field projects focusing on MediaNews Group, the nation's fourth largest news chain.

Delegates from the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Denver Post will join representatives of Guild locals and field staff from the Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco locals. The Media Workers Guild is playing host for the first-time event, being held at the union-represented Courtyard Marriott Hotel in downtown Oakland. Much of the focus will be on the "One Big BANG: One Guild Universe" campaign led by Sara Steffens of the Contra Costa Times and Michael Manekin of the San Mateo County Times. They are recently named co-chairs of an organizing committee building a new bargaining unit among editorial employees of the Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

Members of the San Francisco Chronicle newsroom — key early participants n the BANG organizing along with the San Jose Mercury News staff — also are joining in the sessions, including two full days of seminars followed by meetings and one-on-one visits with BANG employees.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ready, set ...

Our union brothers and sisters at the Los Angeles Daily News understand its never too early to start planning for bargaining, even if the current contract's good for another year. They'll start with a get-together to chat it up February 7 at their favorite "old haunt" around the corner from the DN. The Paper Trail

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

CCT reporter: 'Let's stand together.'

Our counterparts in Northern California have teamed up with non-union Bay Area newspaper workers to raise a common voice and gain bargaining power. Contra Costa Times reporter Sara Steffens wrote an email message to her coworkers in support of the Guild – a message described by local rep (and San Francisco Chronicle reporter) Carl Hall as "possibly the most eloquent and bravest message from a rank and file union leader I have ever seen." We agree!

This much is clear: Times have changed. Our business has changed, and we will have to adapt to survive. We have a new kind of owner, and we need a new way of responding. This is a significant struggle at an important time in our industry, and we have a chance to have a say in our future.
We can sit around and mourn the demise of our industry. Or we can stand up and fight for our little corner of the world, for ourselves and our co-workers and the communities that depend on what we do.

Pasadena Star-News makes "improvements"

Changes in news and feature content making it a "faster read" have been announced. Are the changes positive improvements for the readers and the community? If so, we think it's great news. But we hope the changes aren't a result of another MediaNews consolidation plan to achieve cuts in coverage and jobs, designed to save Corporate money but leave the readers short-changed.

George Riggs quits *

Who is George Riggs? He was the top dog of the California Newspapers Partnership — the San Ramon-based company owned by MediaNews Group, Gannett and Stephans Media and former publisher of the Contra Costa Times. He's also the mastermind of the union-busting consolidation of the Bay Area newspapers. Full story here.

*OneBigBang makes an observation on the MN Bay Area shakeup at One Big Water Cooler

Monday, January 14, 2008

Editorial outsourcing experiment dropped

The McClatchy-owned Miami Herald has decided not to experiment with outsourcing newsroom, editing and production of one of its publications to an India firm, though production of some of its advertising sections and the monitoring of website comments will continue. The Herald's executive editor wrote in a staff memo: "The more we looked at the prospects of editing and layout from outside the newsroom, the more it was clear these skills involving news judgment and experience are not likely to work well from afar."

Around here, "afar" could be as close as another paper in the company chain. To be sure, the good people who work at the "other" paper have the necessary skills in news judgment and experience, but let's face it, they have no connection to the communities "afar".

When the local is taken out of the local paper, the paper isn't local anymore.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Committee report on yesterday's session

This just in from the bargaining committee:

The Jan. 10 bargaining session ended on a flat but friendly note, as both sides seemed to move closer to settling a sticky issue centering on efforts to allow photographers to receive 50% in profits for their photos sold on "My Capture."

Differences of the "My Capture" payment structure surfaced during the year's first session, but both sides agreed that bargaining is the sole jurisdiction of the company negotiator and Guild representative — in a pointed rebuff of recent efforts by Daily Breeze editor Phillip Sanfield to inject himself into the "My Capture" issue.

At Thursday's session with a federal mediator, a draft of a proposed Memorandum of Agreement was submitted by our lead negotiator and local president for the Southern California Media Guild, Micheal Hartigan — but the MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga rejected the draft, saying the 50% shared-profit figure is not now "in the cards." He suggested a 25% profit share.

The union countered with a proposal accepting that lower level now, with the understanding that on-going contract talks will include efforts to close the gap — "and that any negotiated increase will be retroactive" to the date of implementation of the MOA and any possible tentative agreement being agreed upon by both sides.

Janiga — sporting a Bruce Willis crewcut — frowned somewhat, but said he would check with MediaNews bean counters (our term). "I'll look it over," he said, after predicting that bargaining for additional profits would be difficult. "We're going to be very, very expense sensitive," he added.

Hartigan segued into the Sanfield issue, saying: "No one has the authority to bargain with the unit, except for those who are part of the company's bargaining team."

Janiga agreed: "If Phil made some statements ... I apologize for that."

Hartigan added: "He said he had the authority."

Janiga said emphatically: "He does not have the (bargaining) authority."

The session was cut short, in part, because the mediator had been called into another labor dispute. But both sides agreed to examine on Jan. 31 the Guild's proposal for settlement, including a three-year agreement with 4% raises for each year — with the second- and third-year rates at 2% in the scales and 2% in merit raises for all employees. The union will be able — and willing — to grieve any merit increase denied.

Also, there's still an effort to gain payments for work that receives a high number of hits on the newspaper's Website — "high" being defined as 2,500 clicks, at seven (7) cents per click (five (5) cents for reporters and photographers, with the remaining two (2) cents going into a pool that will be distributed equally, each quarter, between copy editors and designers.

More talks are set for Jan. 31, Feb. 7 and March 6.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Rumors, rumors

LAObserved has a post about layoffs at the Orange County Register and that "rumors are swirling around the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. But really, every outpost in the Singleton empire seems to be on edge these days. And should be, the way Singleton's suits keep coming back every few weeks demanding cuts."

Okay, what rumors?

Unions, politics and the middle class

Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and dubbed “the most important political columnist in America” by the Washington Monthly magazine, spoke at the AFL-CIO breakfast during the annual meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) in New Orleans on Saturday. afl-cio now blog

Krugman took issue with corporate spinners and extremist politicians who blame the steep decline in unions on the alleged loss of interest by workers in joining unions. Rather, Krugman says, the biggest culprit has been a hostile political environment that aided and abetted an aggressive, often lawless anti-union, anti-workers’ rights offensive by many of the nation’s employers.
The importance of strong unions and protections for workers’ rights extends far beyond wages, health insurance, pensions and justice on the job, Krugman noted. Unions provide a crucial counterweight to the power of money in political campaigns. They also have a significant impact on the political consciousness and political participation of their members and their families.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Journalism's seismic shift

In a December 2006 speech at San Jose State University, Susan Goldberg, former executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News said, "Our industry is on a cultural fault line, and we are in the middle of an enormous earthquake."

Two years later, MediaNews is causing a seismic shift in Northern California and the Bay Area is the epicenter, according to media observers cited in a story in the Pacific Sun.

John Bowman, former executive editor of the San Mateo County Times, has this to say about MediaNews's entry into the Bay Area: "They're way past the point of diminishing returns, of penny-wise and pound-foolish. ... Thin staffs provide less volume of news, less investigative and less enterprise stories. ... Copy desks are so thinly staffed that they are making an incredible number of errors. These errors are in the headlines and [photo captions] so they are glaring. They are the kind of errors that destroy our credibility."