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 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:


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. 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 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?

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.

Monday, August 11, 2008

8/7 bargaining update

As always, negotiations remain locked over MediaNews' proposed outsourcing language.

A criticism of the latest round, written by P-T writer Joe Segura, includes the language under discussion.

"The subcontracting and/or outsourcing of work shall include but in no manner or degree be restricted to the sharing of content and services with other newspapers and media, the content provided by "citizen journalists," content provided through 'blogs' and other comments/opinions, the content and services purchased through outside services, syndicates and independent providers and any content contributed by non-partisan community/action groups."

Segura points out that the proposal "points to a flood of sources, many non-journalistic" to replace the traditional newsgathering process, consequently killing all job security for professional journalists working within MediaNews.

Unfortunately, Segura notes that the company is disturbingly committed to obtaining the right to replace jobs at will. They've refused to discuss wages until their proposal is accepted - essentially forcing employees to sacrifice their future for the present.

The bargaining team asked MediaNews rep Jim Janiga about the company's "ethical responsibility" to provide professional investigative journalism and writing of substance, but no mention was made of a response.

Talks continue, and the teams remains committed to preserving the job security of their co-workers and friends.

MediaNews memo explains Post sale

MediaNews recently sent out the following memo to employees, explaining their sale of the Connecticut Post, and their plans for the future.

But for all their talk of investing in the future and capitalizing on opportunities (and there's plenty),

we are adding major resources in the sales and marketing areas...

We have reset our cost thermostats and invested in our advertising departments to benefit from that recovery...

...there's no mention of the product itself. News, copy, content - no matter what you call it, the stuff that goes in between the ads is what drives your traffic, and any business model that fails to recognize that is going to have a hard time making lasting gains.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

TO: MediaNews Group Employees

FROM: Jody Lodovic and Dean Singleton

RE: Company Update

We write to bring you up to date on progress we have made in positioning your company for a successful future. While there are daily stories painting doubt on the newspaper industry's future, MediaNews Group's leadership is not among those who share these doubts. We believe the future is bright, but the path to the future will not be an easy one. We, along with the industry, will face many obstacles along the way. We pledge to navigate these obstacles, and today have removed some of ours related to our debt.

In a memo to you a month ago, we alluded to a forthcoming transaction with our partners at Hearst. Last week we announced the sale of the Connecticut Post to Hearst. The purpose of this update is to explain this transaction and what it does for the future of MediaNews Group.

As many of you have read, newspaper transactions have slowed almost to a halt this year and transaction multiples have compressed. Is that because the newspaper business is dying? Absolutely not! The lack of buyers and today's lower valuations are driven by the inability of traditional buyers to raise capital in a distressed financial market. The recent Newsday and the Connecticut Post transactions (at healthy multiples, albeit lower than historical multiples) demonstrate that newspapers are still valuable holdings.

So, why did MediaNews sell the Connecticut Post? While we were not looking to sell the Connecticut Post, we took advantage of an opportunity to accomplish several important objectives. First, proceeds from the sale were used to repay almost 25% of our outstanding bank debt. Secondly, the transaction provided a unique opportunity to approach our bank lenders with a "win-win" proposition. In exchange for the large repayment, our banks agreed to relax certain key aspects of our credit agreement to provide more room to navigate over the coming years.

In sum, the sale, coupled with the changes to our credit agreement, provide us the runway we need to execute our strategic plans, position the Company to be opportunistic, and continue to lead the industry into the future.

Make no mistake; we did not press the "Easy Button." There is still hard work to do. We must be more vigilant than ever given the economic challenges we (and all advertising based media) face. Despite all of the negative press surrounding newspapers (ironically emanating mostly from our own industry), all advertising based media is under similar pressure.

This represents an opportunity to improve our competitive position and grow share in our local markets. That is precisely why we are adding major resources in the sales and marketing areas. If we embrace the challenge, take advantage of the investments made, and work together in collaborative fashion, we will control our future.

And let us address the future of our industry. Many argue that our future is grim. We do not agree. Some of our advertising revenue is migrating to the web, to be sure. But we are positioning our own web businesses to be the leading destination on the web in our local markets. The Yahoo partnership we forged is just one example of our plans for the future. And the MediaNews Group and Hearst-owned Kaango, we believe, will build our self-service web business and offer web-to-print solutions to help us rebuild our local dominance in key classified categories.

But the transition to the web, while offering both challenges and opportunity to our industry, is not today's biggest problem. The fact is, we're in an old-fashioned recession, and those of us who are a bit older have been there before. Real estate, automotive and employment advertising have been decimated by a slowing economy and a collapsed credit market.

MediaNews, which operates in some of the most dynamic markets in the country, has been hurt more than most because we had robust bases to fall from. But in a recovery, we are poised to lead the industry in growth because of the quality of the markets we serve. While we don't know when that recovery will begin, we know it will come. We have reset our cost thermostats and invested in our advertising departments to benefit from that recovery, whenever it begins.

The decision to sell the Connecticut Post was not an easy one. It is a great newspaper run by a fine group of people, and we will miss them. But MediaNews is now better positioned to weather the storm that surrounds our industry. As they say, "Let's grab the bull by the horns" and take MediaNews Group into the future.

As always, we thank you for your efforts during these challenging times. We also recognize and appreciate your loyalties and passion for a great industry, while confronting significant pain and uncertainty. We are confident that the future will be brighter.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Another goodbye

We'd like to offer our best wishes to Press-Telegram reporter Joe Stevens, who has announced that he's leaving journalism for the hallowed halls of academia as a teacher.

Stevens came to the Press-Telegram from New York City ten years ago, and has covered a variety of beats from features to news to sports.

If you've ever seen him with kids, it's obvious that he's a natural for the job. We know he'll be a great teacher.

Good luck Joe.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Council approved P-T action

The Long Beach City Council continued their unanimous support for the Press-Telegram employees, voting to approve and accept a report from City Manager Pat West detailing the financial relationship between the city and the newspaper.

The move is the latest since the council first addressed the declining circulation and local coverage of the Press-Telegram on March 4, following a proposal by Council member Tonia Reyes Uranga.

Although the support wasn't nearly as unanimous, contract negotiations between P-T employees and MediaNews came up for discussion, with members like Bonnie Lowenthal and Rae Gabelich voicing their support for the Long Beach community members who work under increasingly-difficult conditions to provide the city with the coverage it deserves.

Community members and others impacted by the decision came forward to offer their opinions. Some came out unequivocally in support of community journalism and the P-T employees. Other commenters suggested that regardless of their personal opinions on the necessity of local journalism, and no matter how important the civic responsibility of a community newspaper might be, a private business must have the right to neglect its obligations if it chooses to do so.

Speakers included Press-Telegram Executive Editor Rich Archbold, who repeated many of his earlier comments - although not as vigorously as he did March 4 - but despite his claims that fears over outsourcing are "ridiculous," he failed to note that outsourcing has continued to eat away at the newsroom, and suggestions from management hint that much more are potentially on the way if the company gets their way.

Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that despite Archbold's claims that the P-T "isn't going anywhere," Harry Saltzgaver, Associate Publisher of Long Beach's Gazette newspapers, recently said the opposite at a meeting of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. According to the July 24 edition of the Signal Tribune weekly paper, Saltzgaver doesn't mince words when it comes to discussing the Press-Telegram:

“In case you didn’t know it, the PT is dead."
To be clear, this is a senior executive telling members of the Long Beach community that a fellow newspaper in the MediaNews chain, operating in the same market as his paper, doesn't have a future. His position in the MediaNews chain presumably gives Saltzgaver access to information about the company that isn't available to the public, and begs several questions: Did Saltzgaver hear something from MediaNews? If so, does Archbold have the same information? If Archbold has heard something, why hasn't he mentioned it? But if the information isn't factual, why doesn't MediaNews care that their own management team is apparently engaged in stabbing each other in the back?

Either way, Archbold says he regrets the outsourcing, and wants to increase revenues, so he "can hire more reporters." P-T reporter Joe Stevens suggested that if Archbold truly opposes outsourcing and wishes to reinvest in the newsroom, that he take that message to MediaNews.

We hope he does.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ramping up the pressure

Members of the Southern California Media Guild/CWA Local 9400 accelerated community outreach efforts Saturday (Aug. 2) and won some key support from a major Long Beach auto dealership.

Within a few minutes of setting up for leafleting and an informational picket at the big Press-Telegram advertiser, the vice president of sales approached us, giving us an opportunity to explain that the P-T staff has been slashed, the paper reduced in size, readership numbers are shrinking and our employer is pressing for contract language that would give it the right to subcontract any and all of our work. The manager said he shared our concerns since he also believes that local coverage by locally-based veteran journalists is important to the readers — his customers. Local readership is why he advertises in the P-T instead of the Los Angeles Times as the previous owner had done.

In an email sent to LANG executives shortly after we left for another location, he wrote in part: “I am writing you regarding the outsourcing of newsroom jobs… I hope you can resolve this issue soon as I will have to rethink my advertising with your paper...”

The Guild knows we need our advertisers. The Guild knows we need to build our readership base. But the Guild also knows that we can't agree to a contract provision that will allow our employer to outsource our work and fire the few of us that are left.