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.”

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