Thursday, November 20, 2008

Holding the line

No movement was made at our bargaining session yesterday with the company. We again proposed the company's outsourcing language be shelved for 12 months. And again, the company resisted the proposal - ironically enough, by insisting they want to "negotiate a full contract now" that includes the ultimate flexibility to outsource — even offshore — all our jobs.

Our editor, Rich Archbold, said at last weekend's "Press in Transition" event that our jobs are not in danger, in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. He continues to assure the public – and disgruntled readers – that the newspaper will be around for another hundred years.

We know that our contract fight is not only about jobs. It's about the future of the Press-Telegram.

We go back to the table January 15th.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Many questions, few answers

If there's one thing that's clear after Saturday's League of Women Voters "Press in Transition" panel discussion, it's that there are no easy answers to the problems facing journalism today. Indeed, there isn't even much of a consensus on exactly what the problems are.

Approximately 60 people visited the Long Beach Main Library to listen as local journalists and other experts offered their opinions on the current state of journalism in Southern California.

Some panelists were unwaveringly optimistic. Rich Archbold, executive editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram promised readers that his paper would be one of many still printing in the next century - although the format may not be what readers today expect. But despite falling revenues and circulation, Archbold believes today's environment is more opportunity than obstacle. The Internet, widely blamed for print media's loss of advertising revenue and readership, marks a revolution in Media, said Archbold.

"We're on the cusp of something amazing," he said. "This is almost bigger than Gutenberg."

Panelist Danny Paskin, assistant professor at CSULB, told the audience that online journalism is indeed growing, and represents a total change in the way Americans get their news. Paskin cited the rise of Web sites like the Drudge Report as evidence that online journalism has become a primary news source for many readers.

Other panelists were not as optimistic.

Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jeffrey Rubin offered a much more ominous perspective. For all the ease and accessibility, he said, the Internet hasn't provided "the same quality and depth of knowledge" as print media. Investigative journalism in particular, he said, has declined. Most importantly, the newspaper industry has yet to adjust their business model to reflect the changing times.

"I do not think daily newspapers will be here in 100 years," Rubin said. "I doubt they'll be on your doorstep in 30 years."

Rabin also stressed the need for journalism to maintain credibility in an era of fewer resources and instant information, arguing that accurate political coverage is vital to democracy, and "there is public trust in journalism."

"Our role [as journalists] is to present the why of events and explain ... how did we get to where we are, and that is not happening any more."

Neena Strichart, publisher of the Signal Tribune weekly newspaper, reflected on conditions at the Press-Telegram, and the ongoing reductions in content and staffing. The paper's circulation decline is estimated at more than 25% over the last ten years. Strichart said she's worried by the prospect of Long Beach without the Press-Telegram.

"Thinking about this city without a daily newspaper scares the heck out of me," she said. Strichart explained that for many readers, part of the appeal of a newspaper is its tangibility. A newspaper represents low-cost information that's highly accessible - and most important, it's information you can hold in your hand, touch and feel.

Harry Saltzgaver, associate publisher and executive editor of the Gazette newspapers, believes that focusing on the needs of your audience is key to newspapers' survival. Citing the Press-Telegram's evolution from a regional newspaper to one focused on a single city, Saltzgaver suggested that recent newspaper industry woes have actually been good for daily newspapers like the Press-Telegram because limited budgets have forced them to narrow their focus back to their core audience, and re-examine their presentation of community news.

"Newspapers are on the ascendency, but they're going to look a lot different - both dailies and weeklies," he said. "You need to find your community."

Saltzgaver noted that "10 years ago, we were a public service" that residents counted on, as essential as electricity or water service. "I hope we can go back to that."

The discussion closed with questions submitted by the audience. Guild members took the opportunity to ask Archbold for his position on MediaNews' vehement demand to eliminate all employee job security. Archbold did not answer the question, but said that the company was "looking for any kind of flexibility that will help us to be more efficient." He added that newsroom positions - the very jobs being fought over - are in no danger whatsoever. But Press-Telegram writer Joe Segura points out that whether by layoffs, attrition, or outsourcing, newsroom positions have already been sacrificed at the paper, and now only 11 reporters fill a newsroom held many more only a few short years ago.

S-T commentary: At the close of the panel discussion, audience members were encouraged to become active participants, and help shape the discourse on what newspapers should be in the digital age. We agree completely. Our readers can take action now and click here to support local journalism.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Board action on Guild charges expected soon

The Guild received word today that action is expected soon on six unfair labor practice (ULP) charges it filed with the National Labor Relations Board against the Press-Telegram following the staff slashing in February.

The Guild charges the company with the unilateral elimination of copy and design positions without notification to and bargaining effects with the union; offering deals directly with impacted staffers in its transfer scheme and bypassing the employees' collective bargaining representative (the Guild); failing to give the union the opportunity to bargain the company's intent to eliminate a P-T sports reporter position in connection with it's sports coverage deal with the OCR; bad-faith bargaining when the company finally went to the table to negotiate over the layoffs after the fact; and failure to provide information to which the Guild is legally entitled.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“Are the people losing their voice?” *

That's just one of the pressing questions that will be asked of six news industry experts, including Press-Telegram executive editor Rich Archbold, at a discussion forum this Saturday (Nov. 15) from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at the Long Beach Main Library Auditorium, 101 Pacific Ave. “Press in Transition” is sponsored by The League of Women Voters. You can download their flyer here.

What will be the effect on citizenship and democracy if newspapers continue to decline? Are you engaged citizens or consumers of infotainment? What does the future hold for newspapers?

These are the kind of questions we get asked when we are out in the community talking with citizens about our fight to preserve journalism jobs in Long Beach.

Along with our editor, other panelists will be Douglas Shuit and Jeff Rabin, former LAT reporters; Neena Strichart, Signal Tribune publisher; Harry Salzgaver, executive director of the MediaNews-owned Gazette Newspapers and Dr. Danny Paskin, journalism professor at CSULB.

Though newspaper companies remain profitable, we're told the industry is in the tank. The bloodletting continues in the nation's newsrooms — over 13,000 newspaper jobs have been slashed this year — advertisers are fleeing (ad revenue is expected to drop by 11.5% this year) and readers are left holding newspapers pretty much devoid of local news they can use.

We're looking forward to answers to other questions sure to be asked. See you there.

* 13,000 newspaper job cuts now number 13,111: FishbowlLA checks in with journalist Erica Smith who is keeping track of the death by thousands of cuts to newspapers. Asks FBLA: "We can't have a democracy without a free press and we can't have a free press without paying them -- so what's in store for the future?" More

Just like old times – sorta

“The meltdown of Unisys in Torrance had one upside ... I got to see all the great people that made working at the P-T so fun. I was glad to see you all on Tuesday.” — Former P-T staffer

Friday, November 7, 2008

To newspaper readers everywhere

People snatched up extra copies of local and national newspapers Wednesday, eager for very bit of news and information about Tuesday's historic election. Post-election newspapers sales sky-rocketed and additional press runs were ordered. For those of you who stood in line waiting for your extra copies, a memo from your newspaper ...

To: You
From: Your newspaper

Dear You:

Every day, I was there for You, rain or shine, good times and bad. I was always available. Like a puppy, all I ever wanted was to please You.

Was it lively conversation You wanted? Cackling opinions? The latest news and gossip? I gave You all that. I even tried to keep up on all the sports and business stuff because I knew you cared about that, too.

Oh, we had so many beautiful years together. Sometimes I made you mad. Often, I moved you. But we always made up.

And then a few years ago you rewarded my loyalty by straying. You went elsewhere. You sought the company of others who, you thought, gave you something that I could not. Fickle and faithless, you went looking for something faster, newer and younger.

Oh, You.

I wondered, incessantly, had I failed you? Was it me?

And then one day this week, You wanted me again....
Read the full memo on Romenesko's Letters.

E&P's Joe Strupp wrote "So I guess print newspapers are not dead after all. Well, for one day at least."

Carefully preserved and stashed away, we can pull out our November 5, 2008 copy of our local newspaper to re-read, ponder, marvel over, talk about and share proudly with others months, maybe years from now. What online or broadcast story can do that?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sign our petition!

The online petition on our SoCal Media Guild Web site is now live. Quality journalism is something that benefits all of us, so please stop by and show your support!