Thursday, May 29, 2008

5/28 bargaining update *

For all the progress made in the first year of talks, the final two issues - wages and outsourcing - remain a point of debate between the Guild and MediaNews.

The latest proposal offered by MediaNews provides an immediate one-percent raise upon approval of the contract, bumped up to two-percent after six months in the second and third year.

However this offer comes at a price. Accepting those terms also means accepting MediaNews' demands on outsourcing - specifically, the right to eliminate any position they see fit - which would absolutely destroy all job security for MediaNews' Long Beach employees. This demand comes with a one-year timeline, after which the Guild may revisit the issue. But some have pointed out that after a year of zero protection, there may be nothing and no one left to fight for. Agreeing to that provison is akin to signing your own pink slip.

It's important to note that MediaNews has already suggested that further layoffs are on the horizon. In light of our members' tenuous job security, the Guild will not agree to anything that further jeopardizes the futures of our members at the P-T.

The next session has been set for Tuesday, June 10.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


With all their talk of Web initiatives, many have been waiting to see what bold new plans are on the table for LANG.

San Jose might offer a hint of things to come: A deal with Technavia, for an "e-edition" of the Mercury News.

"Every page of the Mercury News, without the paper..."

In other words, a pdf of the regular newspaper.

The new service comes as a subscription-only model, with a 30-day archive, keyword search, and catalog system for finding specific items.

e-paper is nothing new. Even among MediaNews, it's already been done.

There's no telling if an e-edition is coming to LANG, but there are obstacles that an e-paper has to address in order to be effective.

The target audience is limited - most folks can be satisfied with either the online or the print edition of the paper, so the gains in circulation from a special "digital-print" edition will be hard-pressed to offset production costs, even if that circulation boost supplements the print advertising numbers. San Jose is attempting to solve the cost problem by making it a paid-content service. Regular Web news experimented with a paid subscription model, and it hasn't worked.

If they can reduce the production costs, there's no reason not to do a pdf version. The market might be small, but it provides an intermediate delivery system with its own unique benefits. Anything that increases your audience without draining your pocketbook is a worthwhile endeavor. But is there enough of an audience that prefers the traditional format, but wants digital delivery...and most importantly, is willing to pay for it? Only time will tell.

Stopping the bleeding

The most significant indicator that there is no disaster in Iraq is the fact that there is no exodus.

- Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria

This month has seen plenty of journalists leaving LANG for other newspapers, for jobs in PR, and sometimes just for the hell of it. If the rumors are correct, there's at least one more departure on the horizon. It's clear that for most working journalists, faith in the corporate governance of LANG is sitting pretty low.

The mass exodus isn't limited to MediaNews properties of course. One study suggests that nearly 30 percent of journalists plan on quitting newspapers due to "industry issues/job satisfaction."

But at the same time, LANG is notable even among newspapers for losing staff to the competition.

So how do we restore faith not only in the industry, but in the direction LANG is headed? A good first step would be for the powers-that-be to accept that the folks in the trenches know their jobs and this industry, and many have ideas that could help reverse the downward spiral, if simply given the opportunity to share them. At times it feels like MediaNews' plummeting fortunes are nearing critical mass. That's why so many journalists are fighting for a seat at the table. Give workers a chance to contribute their experience and ingenuity. They just might surprise you.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bay area units coordinate bargaining efforts

In a statement released today, Newspaper Guild members from across the bay area announced plans to support and assist each other through contract talks and negotiations with management. They've released a set of specific plans to illustrate the new cooperative environment:

• At BANG-East Bay, journalists will begin a bargaining survey to determine membership's priorities during their first-ever contract talks. After we win our NLRB-supervised election June 13, we will elect leadership and convene a full membership meeting to decide how to proceed with our negotiations.

• At the Mercury News, our leadership is meeting with management to consider its request for early contract talks. We are electing a bargaining committee, conducting a bargaining survey and scheduling small group meetings with union members to make sure their interests and concerns are fully represented at the bargaining table.

• At the Monterey Herald, we are continuing our contract talks with the company and are working hard to reach a settlement that meets the needs of the newspaper, the workers and our community. We will continue to work with other newspaper workers in their organizing efforts.

• At the San Francisco Chronicle, our contract through 2010 allows us to devote our attention to helping the organizing effort at BANG-EB, and lending support to the Mercury News in its impending negotiations.

Let's all wish them luck in their efforts. Hopefully this will become a model for other newsrooms to consider. In this era of shared workforces and clustered offices, organizing bargaining units individually by newsroom is a losing strategy. Some have suggested that weakening Guild units was a consideration in the new restructuring - if that's the case, then consolidated units and coordinated efforts like this one are not only wise, but absolutely necessary.

As for the SoCal Guild members...the P-T unit is preparing for yet-another bargaining session Tuesday, May 27. There are also plans for an upcoming community campaign to share information with concerned readers and coordinate community support. At the Daily News folks are focusing their energies on mobilization and contract survey preparations.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Stronger Guild certified

The sector election referendum commitee has certified the vote for last month's election for the Newspaper Guild's highest offices.

The certification confirms Bernie Lunzer as president, Carol Rothman as secretary-treasurer and Connie Knox as sector chairperson

Lunzer and his running mates ran on a platform stressing the changing face of journalism.

"We argued for the need for change within the Guild, to strengthen the Guild with a focus on real member involvement. We will fight for constructive engagement with employers throughout the industry, to respond to the challenges of building a robust, profitable industry across all platforms -- collaborating where possible, fighting where necessary."

This is an exciting time in the journalism industry, and this election demonstrates Guild members' resolve to tackle the issues facing media industry workers with vigor and determination.

Speaking out on BANG

John Bowman offers his opinion on the BANG union vote at his blog, Spin Ditties.

As a former MediaNews editor, he's well-positioned to give a particular insight into the situation. He believes the re-organizing was purely a stunt to bust the Bay-Area bargaining unit.

As you'll recall, last summer Dean Singleton's company went through all sorts of contortions -- eliminating reporter and editor jobs in strategic places, merging various operations -- all with the goal of being able to decertify the Guild as a bargaining unit for its old ANG properties. And it worked, for a while: The company's paid dailies in the East Bay and on the Peninsula have been, since then, blissfully union free, as was the Contra Costa Times before them.

And of course, that move might just blow up in their face.

At any rate, MediaNews is now staring at the last possible outcome it wanted: a fully unionized Bay Area work force instead of the exact opposite.

If it comes to pass, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys.

The fact MediaNews engenders that kind of sentiment, even from former editors - a position known for company loyalty - speaks volumes about the morale and corporate culture MediaNews employees are dealing with.

Senate reverses FCC

Editor and Publisher reports that the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution opposing the Federal Communication Commission's decision to ease the restrictions on media ownership.

The new FCC rules would open a "gaping loophole for more mergers of newspapers and television stations across the country," according to Sen. Byron Dorgan, sponsor of the resolution. Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii cited the decline of local news and investigative journalism as evidence against greater media consolidation.

According to the article, all that representative government will be for naught however, because President Bush is expected to veto the action anyways.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said he was "disappointed with the Senate's action" and would recommend to the president that he veto the bill.

"The FCC's approach modernizes a 30-year-old rule in a way that improves the financial viability of the newspaper industry, which faces an increasingly competitive media market," he said.

Of course, this doesn't answer one nagging question: If news is so bad, why are some folks trying to buy their way in?

That's exactly what Gatehouse Media CEO Michael Reed wants to do. Reed believes the downward valuations of the larger media players is unfairly depressing the value of smaller market dailies.

"What that means is there's a fantastic buying opportunity in that space."

In an era where everyone is decrying the loss of revenues and laying off employees, it's strange to hear about plans to buy more newspapers, but that's exactly what Reed claims to have in mind.

Of course, it sounds less strange once you realize that for the most part, small market dailies aren't losing money - they just aren't making as much as they did before the internet took classified advertising away.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

BANG vote scheduled

One Big BANG reports that a date has been set for the Bay Area News Group union campaign, following their successful card-signing drive.

MediaNews management opted to hold the BANG vote on Friday, June 13 - the final date allowed by the National Labor Relations Board.

If successful - and there's little evidence to suggest the workers have any intention of changing their minds - the BANG union will mark a significant change in the journalism industry. As content sharing and "clustering" become more common, the traditional "one newsroom" bargaining units have found themselves marginalized and less capable of advocating and protecting the rights of journalists. This is the first step in reshaping the media labor paradigm to reflect the changing face of journalism, and restoring the balance of power between labor and management.

We wish them the best of luck (though none seems to be needed) and like many others, will keep a close eye on the East Bay this June.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Past and present P-T staff together again *

Last Saturday, former and current Press-Telegram staffers got together for a friendly basketball tournament. Everyone says it was a great time, and a good chance to re-connect with the people who might not share the same office any more, but remain close friends.

Here's a slideshow from the event. Enjoy...

* UPDATE: Reporter Karen Robes shared her thoughts on the game:

They were hard fought battles. Some fell. Some used their stomachs
as part of their defensive strategy. Some pulled out pick-and-roll
plays to win.

But in the end, there could only be one and this year it was the
Long Beach Lakers, who came from behind May 10 at Wardlow Park to
win the first ever P-T basketball tournament and tickets to Catalina

In terms of camaraderie, the tourney was a success. People who
rarely speak to each other now stop to chat about the games and the
scrapes and bruises earned from great (and not-so-great) plays. One
staff writer said it was something that was badly needed after a
series of tough company changes.

Tremendous thanks to co-commissioners Diandra Jay and Robert Meeks,
who turned their conversation at the Long Beach Courthouse into a
five-on-five half-court tournament that drew more than 30 current
and former P-Ters.

P.S. Diandra for MVP!

Photos by Stephen Carr and Vicki Di Paolo; slideshow by Stephen Carr

Friday, May 9, 2008

National consolidation, local repercussions

In this article from, Louis Hau exmines media consolidation.

Hau points out that the number of individual newspaper owners has shrunk by two-thirds since 1975.

Funny thing about the 70s - it's also when newspaper circulation started falling. Prior to then, newspaper circulation had always grown - radio didn't stop it, and neither did television.

Blaming everything wrong with newspapers on media consolidation is obviously oversimplifying the problem, but there's no denying that the loss of local coverage has had a deleterious effect on newspaper circulations all across the country.

There's a popular trope about media consolidation's effect on local coverage. The number of studies charting the loss of local news is nothing less than staggering. Even giants like Frank Blethen, owner of the Seattle Times and numerous other papers, believes that local ownership provides better quality journalism.

The question is, what do we do about it? Especially as the FCC contemplates relaxing the rules even further.

By the numbers

Two things from LAObserved today.

The first is an piece on Lee Abrams, Senior VP and Chief Innovations Officer for the Tribune Co.

Abrams is quoted saying that "the way for local newspapers to survive is to completely, totally and passionately tap into the soul of a city," and "It’s all about accepting what a newspapers "natural" audience is."

What that means, as many other business experts have already suggested, is newspapers must provide relevant local coverage, and take advantage of newspapers' natural advantages.

Of course, not everyone agrees with that. Some newspaper chains have gone in the opposite direction, instead opting for a broader, more generic focus to their content.

Which brings us to the second item of the day: The 2008 Scarborough Newspaper Audience Ratings Report.

The news is disturbing. The reader audience for the entire Los Angeles Newspaper Group chain in 2008 was 2,891,000 people - just over half of the audience of the single-edition Los Angeles Times, and not quite double that of the Orange County Register.

Why are those numbers so worrisome? Because if you look at the 2007 numbers, LANG had well over 3 million readers last year, a 7% drop in reader circulation. Contrast that with the circulation decline at the LAT and OCR, who lost 1% and 3% respectively, and you realize that there's something else behind LANG's declining condition beyond the fickle whims of California readers.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

5/30 bargaining update

We just got word on today’s bargaining session, and the subcontracting out of our work is continuing to be a thorny subject.

The company reversed their pledge to bring to the table a counter proposal addressing wages and subcontracting language. They want "flexibility to gather content in any way we see fit," according to MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga. The current language ("The employer retains the right to subcontract work except that no employee shall lose his/her job as a result of augmenting the workforce") gives MediaNews the right to subcontract as much work as they want, but still protects staff.

MediaNews also stated that if the Guild accepts MediaNews' proposal giving them the ability to terminate positions unilaterally, then they would be willing to bring a proposal with a wage increase in the first year.

Another bargaining session has been scheduled for later this month, and the bargaining team tells us they will continue to fight for job protection language in a subcontracting proposal.

NLRB chairman steps down

Robert Battista, the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board who spent his entire tenure destroying worker's rights, has resigned his post to pursue a lucrative career in the private sector, doing the exact same thing.

This is the chairman who infamously tried to give employers the right to fire employees for complaining about unfair labor practices - a decision that was eventually forcibly overturned by the courts.

The upside is that the new NLRB chairman, a presidential appointee, is unlikely to be worse than Battista, and will probably be much better.

The era of big business running amok is winding down, and after eight brutal years of federally-backed assault, working families in America finally have something to look forward to.

Stop the Presses

Tragically, this comes after a period of deliberate diminishment of newspapers by their owners - particularly the big chains. The Knight-Ridder chain is out of business because its model failed. But a lot of newspapers are much less important in their communities and to their readers than they used to be, and the result is that they don't have a good defensive bullwark from which to fight the war we're all engaged in.

So says Bob Kaiser, Associate Editor of the Washington Post, in the documentary Stop the Presses, who suggests that in some ways, the decline of the American newspaper has been a self-made phenomenon.

The film, currently screening on the festival circuit, takes a hard look at the newspaper industry, examining both the causes of its decline, and what that means for democracy in America.

Check out the video page for excerpts from the film.

There's no information about a California showing yet, but as soon as one is announced we'll share the information here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

LANG server back online

We have word from P-T folks that UNISYS was back up yesterday, a day earlier than expected.

Late Friday a P-T staffer reported –

Yeah, one way we're dealing with the unisys crash is that they've moved nearly all the former Sports desk staff back to the PT where they are building sports pages in Quark Express which was our pre unisys method.
A designer at the Daily Breeze said via email –
The Breeze has a limited number of terminals in which we can use Unisys. Only designers are on Unisys. We are proofing out pages and making edits to the proofs. The designers then read the proofreading marks and enter them on screen. Worse, a proof is taking 20 minutes to print.

We will continue to work on the Unisys "disaster recovery" system through the weekend.
Props to all the LANG staffers that made the best of a difficult situation as a result of the server failure. Some say the malfunction could have been avoided if LANG execs invested in tech upgrades regularly, but most understand that crashes can happen anytime.

We hope that recognition for a "job well done" will be given to all the staffers who jumped in and worked long hours under stressful conditions to get LANG pages out on deadline.

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Denver, we have a problem"

As expected, the Bay Area News Group organizing effort seems to have been a success.

"I'm incredibly proud to be part of our newsrooms today," said Sara Steffens, an award-winning reporter at the Contra Costa Times and a co-chair of the campaign.

"It's heartening to see so many of us come together, during these turbulent times in our industry, saying 'We deserve a seat at the table.' Tough decisions need to be made, but we want to be part of building our future."

Clearly MediaNews thought they were being clever when they consolidated their Bay Area newspapers - along with the non-union Contra Costa Times - giving them the justification to decertify the existing union shops and unilaterally break negotiations with those groups.

Fortunately, BANG staffers used the situation to their advantage, and just formed a new union, bigger and stronger than before. A real union, with real teeth. In their own words:

Today we are standing up for our profession. We are saying that what we do matters. It still matters. It will always matter. Our craft deserves to be treated with respect. And we ourselves deserve to be treated with respect.

Can you imagine how the LANG newsrooms might look if we had similar strength?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

But when it works, it's beautiful

Reporter G has been chronicling a network malfunction that has every LANG paper in Southern California scrambling.

In the words of the Press-Telegram's Kristopher Hanson,

Unysis - or as we fondly refer to it, unisux - is down at the PT and Breeze as well.

The system crashed yesterday around 5 or 6 p.m. and isn't expected to be up until "later this afternoon" at the earliest. In the meantime, we're being told to file stories via email.

We've gotten reports of designers traveling across L.A. County and working late into the night to finish pages at each property individually. Of course, if they hadn't centralized the desks and slashed staff in the first place, LANG would have been much better equipped to handle problems like this when they occur (and network errors like this aren't unusual). But for the sake of saving a few bucks, LANG's remaining employees will have to shoulder that burden for them. The communities "served" by this consolidation plan have yet another reason to be skeptical about MediaNews' claims that slashing staff will somehow allow them to serve California better.