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 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.
"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 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 Web site, those San Diego Union-Tribune purchase rumors have been confirmed by

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 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."