Friday, February 29, 2008

Whacked by MediaNews ax

Twenty-three unionized staffers have been directly affected by the so-called "reduction in force" as Denver-based MediaNews continues its dismantling of our once-great hometown newspaper.

The company will eliminate the design department and all copy desk positions, moving the work to the non-union Torrance Daily Breeze, effective next week. Twenty-one designers and copy editors were "invited" to apply today for twelve available positions at The Breeze. Interviews will be conducted over the weekend. Nine of us will face lay off by the end of next week.

"I'll fill out the transfer request. I've got nothing to lose," said one stunned copy editor. "But at my age, I need to keep my health insurance. And I sure won't be happy about losing my union representation if they hire me, but if nothing happens and I end up being laid off, I get to remain a union member and strong supporter to the very end."

We lost a photographer yesterday and a web editor today. We will also loose two valued reporters who have recently given resignation notice and we've learned their positions will not be filled. We will miss them all and wish them well.

Only two managers will exit: publisher Dave Kuta and John Futch, managing editor.

Cuts to the unionized staff may total eleven when all the bloodletting is finally over. We were a bare-bones staff yesterday so the cuts strike deeply today. In fact, they seem life-threatening to us and to our Press-Telegram at the moment.

But when the ax stops swinging, those of us still here are committed to moving forward and doing what we do best — good journalism. We hope to work with — not just for — our employer, to preserve the Press-Telegram as a valued source of information for our city and the surrounding communities.

But tonight, we mourn for ourselves and our colleagues here and at the Daily News. This is a sad time for all of us.

(In photo from left to right: Out-going P-T publisher Dave Kuta, LANG VP Labor Relations' Jim Janiga, out-going managing editor John Futch, P-T executive editor Rich Archbold, P-T staffer and Daily Breeze editor, Phillip Sanfield.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Small-market papers are thriving

While Wall Street analysts predict a future for newspapers in ever more apocalyptic terms, the fact is: Many small-market papers are not just surviving, but thriving. E&P's "Small Towns, Big Profits: How Many Papers Survive Slump" uncovers reasons real local, local, local is working. "So how do small-market newspapers do it, and are there things metros could learn from them?" A sampling:

1. While the Internet has turned most news into a commodity, local news remains a unique newspaper asset that's a reliable moneymaker .... "We make significant emphasis on quality local journalism, and we definitely believe that investing in local journalism is absolutely imperative to our success."

2. Getting editors and publishers who truly know their audiences -- personally, even -- pays off journalistically and financially.

3. " a general rule, the most effective papers in terms of business success are the ones who are best in community service."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

22 to go at LADN *

Word just in that MediaNews will cut 6 managers and 16 newsroom union staffers at the Los Angeles Daily News

That's the bad news and the really bad news is that anyone who entertained the thought of leaving will have only until noon tomorrow (Thursday) to make his/her plans known. (Well, maybe it won't be so bad if 22 people already had plans to move on?) 

An incentive to take the exit is the offer of the same severance package (per the Guild contract) as will be given those who will be shown the door Friday(!). Details to come later at The Paper Trail.

* UPDATE: LAObserved post on the disheartening news here.

BANG: Singleton's Waterloo?

Former San Mateo County Times editor John Bowman blogs "Silicon Valley looking like Singleton's Waterloo". (Bowman quit last year because of MediaNews consolidation that threatened the paper's quality.) "The slow-motion train wreck that has been Dean Singleton's latest foray into the Bay Area over the past two years is clearly gathering steam." On the massive job cuts: "... more evidence that Singleton is a one-trick pony whose trick — slashing jobs, slashing pages, slashing quality, slashing costs — isn't working well."

No, it isn't working well. It's hurting us here too. Slash and burn tactics designed to do increase corporate profits will ultimately destroy the product that produced the revenue; there's not much left of a great newspaper after it's sucked dry.

Down here in LANG, it doesn't have to go that way. We know it will take a drastic change in the corporate mindset to stop the dismantling of our hometown newspaper. Nonetheless, we'll continue to report and produce quality journalism efficiently and as best we can with the limited resources available to us — providing our communities with not just what they want to know, but what they need to know.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Talk to us, dammit

The following petition, signed by a majority of Guild-covered Press-Telegram newsroom staffers, was delivered today to editors Rich Archbold and John Futch:

In recent weeks we have learned through other media sources of an agreement between MediaNews and the Orange County Register to share journalistic content between the LANG newspapers and the OCR.

We are very disappointed that our own management team has not granted us the courtesy and respect to tell us about an agreement that has a strong potential to undermine our job security. We would appreciate the opportunity to understand how the plan will work, how they see it as an improvement to our
Press-Telegram and to ask questions about the changes. After all, we are stakeholders in this newspaper too
We await a response. Stay tuned.

The buzz: Content-sharing deal already sealed

Another post at OCWeekly suggests that the content-sharing agreement between MediaNews and OCR is in fact a done deal.

Here's the evidence: Stories by Bill Plunkett, the Register's Anaheim Angels writer, are running in numerous Singleton newspapers, including the San Bernardino Sun, the Pasadena Star-News, and the Whittier Daily News. Meanwhile, Tony Jackson of Singleton's LA Daily News is appearing in the Register for Dodgers coverage. And more recently, there's this Feb. 22 story that ran in the San Mateo County Times--a Singleton paper--with a byline that says "By Kimberly Edds and Salvador Hernandez, MEDIANEWS STAFF."

What's so strange about that, you might ask?

Edds and Hernandez, if you haven't already figured it out, happen to be Register reporters.
Ugh! Any comment made here couldn't express our sentiments as well as those made to our 2/14 post re this deal.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Local bosses powerless against cost-cutting corporate agenda

2/22/08 By Josh Richman, Media Workers Guild 
The end is nigh, the sky is falling ... Um, no. Certainly this week’s news of buyout offers and impending layoffs has put us all in a grim state of mind, and rightly so: We’re journalism professionals who take our work and our careers very seriously, and the thought of giving it away for up to half a year’s pay (or having it taken away for half that) doesn’t sit well with anyone.

But we have to see the bigger picture here.

Times are tough all around, but that argument pales when delivered by a company with such a long history of cutting, rather than investing and improving, to fix its bottom line. Consider this: Hearst Corp. let the Chronicle lose money for years as it tried to find a new, vibrant multimedia voice (though admittedly, it's in dire straits now, too). The BANG-EB properties have always been profitable but for one month, and now MediaNews corporate management is demanding a blood sacrifice.

It's a difference in philosophy — MediaNews’ top priority always has been and always will be about dollars and cents.

And if this week's events make anything clear, it's that local management – namely John Armstrong and Kevin Keane – cannot protect us from MediaNews’ demands. We have no doubt they're not happy about this, and we respect that, but their unhappiness doesn't save our jobs.

Having a voice, a seat at the table, as this company and our industry decide what they will be for the years and decades to come can save jobs and preserve the journalistic quality for which we all strive. Now more than ever, we should be trying to insinuate ourselves into the dialogue rather than just sitting here with no choice but to take it as the company dishes it out. The company would have you believe your individual voices are stronger, but why not retain your own voice while adding yours to a unified, union voice the company is legally required to hear?

We are not “whining”, Mr. Singleton

Quoted from a general session of the NAA Connections Conference and shared by this blogger were three newspaper execs talking about change, including this from MN's Dean Singleton:

“If you read Romenesko every day and you hear our people in newsrooms whine — they whine and whine and whine wishing for the old days to come back. Damn it, I wish the old days would come back, too, but wishing for it isn’t going to make it happen. You must be focused on the future.”

“When we had to make cuts at one of our larger papers somebody in one of our unions put out a letter that said, ‘Well, we won’t be able to put out the same newspaper we have over the past 30 years.’ I said, ‘Precisely. Our readers don’t want the same newspaper we’ve been putting out over the past 30 years.’”
Perhaps not, but according to the comments and complaints we hear from readers (and we know the company gets them too), it is the public that wants the newspaper to produce the kind of journalism they've depended upon (for 30 years?) — in-depth, substantive and truthful.

We aren't whining, Mr. Singleton. We're worried about our own futures and the future of the papers for which we work so hard. Outsourcing or eliminating us — particularly those of us with strong and trusted connections to the community our newspaper is supposed to serve — can't be the company's answer to its declining double-digit profit margins if indeed it really cares about the survival of its newspapers.

When the local press no longer speaks with the city's voice, it no longer sounds authentic. The readers notice. If they stop buying the paper, the advertisers go elsewhere and we're in the race to the bottom.

Byline and blog strike in Honolulu

A byline strike by reporters is a traditional job action used to show editorial worker solidarity. But the Honolulu Advertiser's reporters extended their three-day byline strike to include the blogs. It received full support of the union members. According to The Newspaper Guild, the tactic may be the first of its kind.

...the blogs written by reporters had no new posts, other than an explanation of the temporary hiatus, which drew comments of support from readers
Mark Platte, the paper’s editor, said that the blog blackout was within the reporters’ rights. They “have to write for print — that’s part of their jobs — but blogs are voluntary,” he said.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Experts: BANG cuts will hurt local coverage

You can read the story and the quoted "experts" here, but the fact is, other experts — people like us who are trained to gather the news, "experts at covering city hall, politics, local sports" — have been sounding the alarm for years.

But as this story points out, media owners haven't quite gotten it. "Critics of the cuts by MediaNews said the company is too focused on eliminating jobs and saving money, which in the long run risks the viability of local newspapers."

Media experts aren't the only folks worried about the long-term viability of our newspapers. So are we.

Wanna hazard a guess on this?

While surfing around looking for more information on the LANG-OCR content-sharing deal, we found this posted yesterday at Reporter-G :

To shore up falling ad revenues, the Orange County Register has developed a three-pronged strategy that basically mimics the one already in use by MediaNews newspapers in California: smaller staff, more community focus, more focus on Web reports, younger staff, etc.

How's that working for MediaNews? The Daily News of Los Angeles, the "flagship" of the Southern California papers is about to be butchered, every reporter and editor working for the MediaNews papers in the Bay Area has been, er, encouraged to take a buy out or face the knife, the San Jose Mercury News has suffered copious cuts, and the remaining California papers are bracing themselves for Bad News, since they aren't turning sufficient profits either.

I'd guess the Register is positioning itself for a possible sale to MediaNews. Otherwise the moves make no sense.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Guild responds to BANG-EB announcement *

From MediaNewsMonitor: “By now you've read John Armstrong's latest memo, and most likely, received your buyout packet. Times are tough, we know, but we're dismayed that the only way this company seems to deal with adverse conditions is to cut, cut, cut rather than to improve, improve, improve. Sure, they're offering a buyout rather than going straight to layoffs, but for many of us this means having to decide by the end of next week whether to abandon our journalism careers for less than half a year's pay. Those who were considering leaving anyway can do so with some money in their pockets, and that's great. But what of the rest of us, the ones who can't leave or simply can't bear to abandon journalism to the bottom line? ” Full post

* From SF Chronicle: Luther Jackson, executive officer with the San Jose Newspaper Guild, called the announcement "sad news" for the communities, readers and advertisers served by the local newspapers. "It's going to be very difficult to continue to give people what they need," he said. He added that newspapers are stuck in a vicious circle: As more jobs are cut, newspapers provide less to readers, fewer people subscribe, less is spent on advertising and further layoffs are needed. "That's a serious problem, particularly at a time when the industry clearly needs to innovate and move ahead," he said.

No details yet on layoffs at the LA Daily News

Given the news from the north when the details are released, they won't be pretty. Our Guild colleagues at the LADN are bracing for deep, serious cuts that, according to shop steward Brent Hopkins, "could greatly affect the way we cover the news in this town and further cut into an already strapped newsroom." Brent hasn't heard numbers or a specific date but wrote on his blog, The Paper Trail, "Whatever the case, this is not the time to sit by and wonder what will happen next. This is a time to make sure we're ready to respond."

A couple of us will join him in Sherman Oaks for the membership meeting tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

Buyouts offered at BANG-EB papers * *

Except for Operating Directors and the Publisher, all employees at the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News and the other 21 dailies and weeklies in the Bay Area News Group - East Bay are being invited to apply for voluntary buyouts. Announcements regarding the need to reduce costs were made today. The company is looking to save a dollar amount, not a specific number of jobs. If it can't reach that number with a buyout, there will be layoffs. "The number of jobs that will be eliminated will be significant." Read the memo here. Also, at the Mercury News, editorial members won't be offered buyouts but will face direct layoffs.

The Operating Directors and The Publisher rolled up their sleeves, crunched the numbers, tweaked projections and "...reached the unavoidable conclusion that we must reduce our operating costs, and we must do so quickly. And we cannot accomplish what we need to accomplish without reducing the size of our workforce."

How can a media company put out a quality newspaper without the staff necessary to gather and produce real news that serves the community? Who will read — let alone buy — papers produced on shoestring budgets and filled with wire fillers and fluff pieces?

* Economic woes lead to job cuts at East Bay newspaper publisher — Mercury News
* 1,300 employees at San Francisco-area newspapers offered buyouts; layoffs may follow — International Tribune

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can newspapers afford editors?

How many people have to read a story before it goes in the paper? Now that pending layoffs at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have made newsroom cutbacks all but unanimous, some managers eager to maximize the feet on the street at their newspapers are wondering if they really need all those editors. Alan Mutter asks the question on his blog (included is a poll "What is the minimum number of people necessary to vet a newspaper story?"). The comments pick up on the debate.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Week end news wrap up *

* Honolulu Strike Vote Sunday — About 600 Honolulu Advertiser workers are preparing for a strike vote this Sunday as a labor dispute with the Gannett Corporation, the newspaper’s owner, drags into a critical phase. Update: Strike authorization approved. "They were outraged at what the company had on the table and they vowed to fight to get a fair contract," said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

Singleton Lines Up Talent for Newspaper Conference Bash— The MediaNews Group CEO and occasional rock promoter has landed another '60s legend, Johnny Rivers, for one of the premier bashes at April's mammoth Capital Conference. "With all the industry is going through, you need to have some fun once in a while," he said. "It will make people feel good for a little while."

Tribune to Cut 400-500 Jobs — At the Los Angeles Times, 100 to 150 jobs would be eliminated -- 40 to 50 of them in the newsroom -- through a combination of attrition, voluntary buyouts and, if necessary, layoffs.

Guild at Baltimore Sun Discusses Buyouts with Management — The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild wants Tribune to give Sun employees more than two weeks to consider the latest buyout offer.

NYT to Cut 100 Newsroom Jobs — The cuts will be achieved by “by not filling jobs that go vacant, by offering buyouts, and if necessary by layoffs,” said the executive editor, Bill Keller.

New York Times Shafts Digital Staffers — The Times's future may be digital (NYT), but staffers who work for the web site will still be treated as second-class citizens, says the Newspaper Guild of New York.

Guild Members Bring Jolt of Energy to BANG Organizing Drive — Working members from Guild units in Denver, St. Paul, Monterey, San Jose and San Francisco brought a critical infusion of fresh energy and insight to an organizing drive at the MediaNews Group’s Bay Area newspaper cluster.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Net income earnings up 34% in 2Q

MediaNews detailed its earnings in a SEC filing Thursday. The earnings are because of one-time gains including a legal settlement ($3.8 million in fees stemming from a lawsuit against former St. Paul Pioneer Press publisher Par Ridder) and the sale of interest in newspapers. More in this Editor & Publisher report.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A content-sharing, cost-cutting venture revealed

Rumors swirling around the past couple of weeks that Media News properties in Southern California, and possibly elsewhere, will soon be sharing content with the Orange County Register are confirmed with this story posted on this afternoon.

In a meeting with OCR staffers, publisher Terry Horne — according to a source — "confirmed rumors already circulating that the paper was meeting with MediaNews to find ways for both companies to share editorial content in "overlapping" areas of coverage such as sports and entertainment. Horne didn't mention whether any money would change hands in the deal, but he said it would allow both companies to save money by laying off reporters who work beats that both the Reg and Singleton-owned papers, such as the LA Daily News and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, already cover."

Let's talk about this, folks.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Every inch matters *

In the name of offsetting newsprit costs, the P-T and its sister paper LADN on Tuesday ran “smaller” papers - newspapers with noticeable one-inch margins. Wednesday will see a new “narrower web” (as described in an internal memo) at 46".

It's a schizophrenic time for MNG's SoCal papers as they rename sections and shunt into these sections stories that used to run in sections that no longer exist. The results are a mishmash of stories - social columns next to crime briefs next to entertainment features next to business stories.

To reconcile all this incongruity, management spins the changes as positive: “Hey, folks. More news for you!” But the reality is that there is actually less news. A crowded page doesn't necessarily
equal more content. To make room for stories that once had their place in specific sections, some articles get a shove-off.

It is also worth mentioning that in this mix are articles outside the P-T's coverage areas.

Sometimes the stories that don't make it in the print edition appear online as “web exclusives.” It's an ingenious solution to limited space, but it makes you wonder why a local story must be so exclusive that the segment of the readership that is “unwired” ought to miss out?

* LADN editor's little note on that paper's reduced size: "To Our Readers"

Friday, February 8, 2008

What part of ‘No’ don't they understand!!

Our bargaining team led by CWA Local 9400 president Micheal Hartigan presented our proposal for settlement yesterday that rejects the company's push for a 0% wage increase and the absolute right to outsource our work.

MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga claims not to understand what our concerns are on the outsourcing issue. Helllllo! Our team has spent the better part of a year in talks spelling out what our concerns are!! Grrrrrr.

Coworkers, check your email box for the full bargaining update ...