Thursday, January 1, 2009

Toward a new and better year

A Message from Bernie Lunzer, President, The Newspaper Guild of the Communications Workers of America:

A Time of Change

The Newspaper Guild was founded in a similar time of change – the early and mid-1930s. It was a time of desperation and unemployment.

Good journalism was not a priority. Newspapers, however, were still the dominant channel for information distribution. Guilds developed all over America because workers understood it was their best hope to change things for the better. Employers fought against organizing, but the workers persevered.

Now we are at a new turning point, where even the term "newspaper" is an anachronism. But whatever form it takes, information will be gathered and disseminated. Will it be credible, well-researched information that makes our culture stronger, better, more honest? Or will it be entertainment and shock reporting, always chasing the newest, most provocative child's death or celebrity meltdown. Will workers be valued and paid, or will they be disposable, contingent and exploited?

The current captains of our industry have failed. They did not predict where the internet would take us. They did not invest in new skills, and new technologies. They worked for the profit margin of the next quarter – which they thought should be somewhere around 25 percent. When profits fell below that, they slashed jobs and the quality of our work.

Others saw the possibilities of free access to our product and linked their revenue streams to search. Our work was plundered by them for profit. Still others saw the possibilities for new ad vehicles and started up the ventures we should have and could have, but for lack of vision.

The luckiest owners pushed their last burst of creativity into selling our businesses and getting out while the getting was good. The debt that was left in their wake is now doing untold damage to the crippled industry left behind.

So now we are presented with the most serious challenge of all: While the ground shifts under our feet and we are overworked, we must fight for creative solutions and for the heart and soul of our industry. This, while we have been redefined as a commodity to be slashed by our owners, over and over.

Can we do this?
Can we find solutions that preserve quality information and good jobs?
Is there enough time?

We don't have any choice, and we don't know how long it will take. But we'll take the fight.

This business must be reinvented. It's already started and it's all around us. We must act while our brands and our Web sites still have value. This will require workers working together in extraordinary ways. We can be major players in reshaping the news and information industry, and ensuring that our work is compensated and that we are valued.

Bringing the front-line worker into the business plan is a key ingredient for those businesses that hope to survive. It will also mean stripping out unnecessary management positions. They are not only expensive, but they actually stand in the way of innovation. Healthy organizations will be diverse, worker-focused and nimble. Successful organizations will forge a new relationship with workers.

Why should a union lead the way? What's needed right now are democratic, value-oriented workplaces. They must be efficient and tap the greatest potential of their workforce. People do their best work when they really care about their product. A union environment is the way to ensure the promises necessary to make this kind of enterprise work. Owners, managers and editors who want success should welcome high-participation, unionized information workers.

Why are we that union? CWA has brought together the best, most-democratic traditions of broadcast, Web and print journalism by joining with NABET, the ITU and The Newspaper Guild. It is time to tap the potential of our groups to organize a new kind of workforce: highly-trained, highly-motivated and value-driven.

Rather than give up in the face of the current crisis, we can seize its potential. We represent professional journalists, salespeople, technicians and graphic designers. We represent the largest group of unionized web professionals. We understand the new work and the new worker.

We have the building blocks. But we can no longer simply rely on the current owners and managers to know what is best for our organizations. We must insist on building the new future together – with our ideas, at the table, as equals. If we're asked to give up wages to ensure survival, we must demand in return to have a voice in how the business goes forward. The information industry can be rebuilt. Our members have the best ideas for how to rebuild it. I also believe we can reach out to other workers in the industry and be the most credible, driving force for a new media industry in America.

There's every reason to have hope. But the time is now for us to act and take on that responsibility. Everything we know and care about started with an idea, and was built on hard work and shared values. We can do this.
From the TNG Web site

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