Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pay walls coming

They said they were going to do it, and now it's official.

MediaNews Chairman Dean Singleton announced yesterday that the company would begin implementing a "pay wall" at two MediaNews Web sites.

Initially, only the Chico Enterprise-Record and the York Daily Record will see portion of online content restricted to paying customers, but according to Editor & Publisher, the plan may spread to other properties if successful. The Chico Enterprise-Record is located in Chico, Ca., and has a circulation of 27,000. The York Daily Record is in York, Pennsylvania and has a circulation of 55,000. MediaNews says the sites were chosen because of the size of their respective markets.

"We wanted to get sites that were not metro sites for the same reason that you don't open on Broadway," said Howard Saltz, vice president for content development. "But not a site that has Web traffic so small that the change would not affect anything."

Saltz said more sites, including MediaNews Group's larger papers such as The Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, would likely add a pay wall approach if the York and Chico efforts prove successful: "We are going to be rolling out for the next two years."

Despite the near-inevitable public mutiny awaiting the decision, MediaNews' plan cuts to the heart of the online conundrum. In an environment where advertising is so grossly undervalued, how does a newspaper get paid for the content it produces? Their solution isn't what matters, what MediaNews is trying is an assertion that real journalism isn't cheap, and it isn't easy to produce. Even after being slashed beyond comprehension by layoffs and cutbacks, most daily newspapers still have no peer when it comes to the scope and quality of the news they produce each day. The question is whether or not anyone cares...and perhaps more importantly, will anyone pay for it.

What do you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free Speech Assembly, October 24

It's short notice, but we've just received information on an upcoming journalism conference, hosted by the California nonprofit First Amendment Coalition.

The Free Speech Assembly will discuss "journalism, technology and public policy - explained and debated from the standpoint of freedom of speech and freedom of information."

Saturday, October 24 is the date. The place is Southwestern Law School's Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute in Los Angeles. The event is FAC's annual Free Speech and Open Government Assembly, jointly sponsored by the Coalition, the Biederman Institute and the McCormick Foundation.

For our colleagues in the ethnic media, some sessions will be conducted in Spanish and Vietnamese, as well as English.

The program includes panel discussions on topics ranging from journalists' use of social media for reporting, to new online tools to track the influence of money on legislation, to journalism training sessions on how to get sophisticated, insider news stories (and avoid being "spun" by government officials on one hand, or union officials on the other) about: local police and the criminal justice system; public school financing and the ranking of schools and teachers; salaries and pensions of government employees; and much more.

Attendees will have a chance to listen to featured speakers Alexandra Berzon and Alex S. Jones. Berzon was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize as a reporter at the Las Vegas Sun, and currently covers Las Vegas for the Wall Street Journal. Jones, Director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, is a fellow Pulitzer winner and former host of NPR's On The Media, and PBS’s Media Matters.

Discussion panelists include: Dan Gillmor, Director, Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship; Geneva Overholser, Director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism; Claudia Nunez, La Opinion; Evan Hansen, Editor-in-Chief,; Neil Budde, President, DailyMe; Ricardo Sandoval, Sacramento Bee; Mary Perry, EdSource; Kathryn Baron, Fellow, UC Berkeley; and LA Times reporters Mitchell Landsberg and Matt Lait.

Best of all, attendance is free. But space is EXTREMELY limited. So if you're interested in attending, please register now.

You can register to attend at the Web site.

Monday, September 28, 2009

'Accidental' owners

As newspaper fortunes decline, the banks that financed the ambition of chains like MediaNews will increasingly find themselves the new owners of media properties, said MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.

"Whether by supervision of the courts or by negotiation to convert some debt to equity, America's banks will own a large position in the newspaper sector going forward. Get used to it."

In a surprisingly candid moment, Singleton also suggested that the eventual denouement of corporate newspaper empires might be the best thing that could happen to the industry.

"Is this all bad? Probably not," Singleton said, predicting the result could be that newspapers are eventually owned once again by people wanting to cover news and shape opinion through editorial pages instead of being publicly owned corporations forced to meet Wall Street's profit expectations.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hammond Out at Daily News

Rich Hammond, the veteran Los Angeles Daily News hockey writer, has announced he will be leaving the paper to take a job as a columnist with the Los Angeles Kings, where he will write for the team's official website. He starts with the Kings on Oct. 1.


Hammond has been at the Daily News for more than 10 years and previously did duty at the Orange County Register and the Torrance Daily Breeze. Hammond's move follows the departure of Daily News Inside UCLA writer Brian Dohn (in early August), online writer Jason Kandel (in July), education writer George Sanchez (in May), Dodgers writer Tony Jackson (in May) and publisher Ed Moss (also in May).

Reporter Jerry Berrios, who was laid off earlier this year from the Daily News has been hired to fill the online position and sports writer Jon Gold has been hired to takeover the UCLA coverage at the paper.

MNG Decides to Charge Online

Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group which includes the nine newspapers of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, said Thursday that MNG has decided to start charging for at least some online content on each of the MNG websites.

The comments from the typically media-shy Singleton came in a short interview with the Salt Lake Tribune (another MNG outlet).


In previous statements, Singleton had said that MNG was considering charging for some online 'premium' content.

"We can't continue to give everything away for free," Singleton told the Salt Lake Tribune. "When you give it away for free, it has no value. When you begin charging for it, it has some value."

Singleton said that each MNG paper would most likely move into the future with two sites, one for free that offers breaking news and some user-generated content, and one that charges, populated with what Singleton describes as the "most valuable content" -- sports, hyper-local news, and maybe even entertainment news.

Monday, September 21, 2009

President "happy to look" at nonprofit bill

He's not familiar with the legislation yet, but President Barack Obama told the Toldeo Blade he'd "be happy to look at" bills like the Newspaper Revitalization Act.

"What I hope is that people start understanding if you're getting your newspaper over the Internet, that's not free and there's got to be a way to find a business model that supports that."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Will it work?

According to Alan Mutter, a recent survey shows 51% of newspaper publishers support fee-based online content. 49% are either unsure if the plan will work, or believe it will fail.

Losing faith in the news

Confidence in the accuracy of the media is at a two-decade low, according the the Pew Research Center.

Just 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate. In the initial survey in this series about the news media's performance in 1985, 55% said news stories were accurate while 34% said they were inaccurate. That percentage had fallen sharply by the late 1990s and has remained low over the last decade.

The impact of diminishing variety in coverage that comes with so many mergers and acquisitions of media properties is never addressed by the study, but many groups like Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting suggest that the two are closely intertwined.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kandel goes to KPCC

Los Angeles Daily News online editor Jason Kandel is leaving to take the online managing editor slot at KPCC, according to LAO.

The DN is looking for an online breaking news reporter to fill his shoes. LAO has the details.

The Redlands Daily Facts has an opening too, for a GA reporter/photographer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cutting costs, or profits?

Although controlling costs is undeniably a necessary part of managing a successful business, sometimes it's wiser to wield a scalpel, rather than an axe. This is something we've seen time and time again lately, as newsrooms across LANG and the rest of the country fall into the same herd mentality and reflexively slash newsroom staff every time revenue starts to droop.

Unfortunately, as we and many others have said all along, cutting into your core business product isn't a smart business decision. You don't need an MBA or a PhD in economics to see that. And now there are hard numbers to back up that argument.

Gary Scott posted a link to this study by the University of Missouri, which indicates that short-term savings, eked out by cutting news expenses, quickly translate into lower revenue and profits down the road.

The authors advised that newsrooms should be the last department cut. When cutting costs, newsroom cuts are by far the most damaging to revenues – and the longer the reductions occur, the greater the acceleration of damage. The authors wrote, “We find that newsroom cutbacks hurt a newspaper’s revenue many times more than cutbacks in either distribution or the sales force departments.”

This of course isn't news to anyone familiar with the vagaries of life inside LANG. MediaNews' ongoing pursuit of lower costs has been a case study in what happens to the bottom line when newsrooms become less important than the boardroom.

The real question is, what can we do to change course?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

CWA Legislative Conference

The 2009 CWA Convention and Legislative-Political Conference adjourned last week, with several important resolutions. Guild rep and Vice President Vicki Di Paolo was good enough to share her take on what the conference means for working journalists facing the worst industry conditions in history, so here's a partial list of some of the issues CWA is tackling right now.

The subject matter is a little dry, but the information is critical to understanding how the Guild is working to help improve and preserve the lives and jobs of journalists in America.

United Labor

Because unity and solidarity are some of our guiding principles, CWA and other labor organizations like the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and the NEA established a National Labor Coordinating Committee to work together and create a labor movement that maximizes the strength of its' members.

Employee Free Choice Act

Most of us realize that U.S. labor laws are no longer enforced as intended. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 established rights for workers for the first time, and helped pave the way for the laws we take for granted today. But in the 70 years since its passage, the NLRA has been under constant attack by big business. In the last few years particularly labor laws have been interpreted vastly differently from those early days, and again the rights of workers are overlooked, unenforced, and disregarded by employers.

In an interview with Multinational Monitor magazine, David Bonior, Chair of American Rights at Work and former Michigan Congressman, says abuse of labor law by employers has become an "epidemic."

It is a huge problem. To give you some perspective on that: the International Labor Organization arm of the United Nations ranks all member countries based upon compliance with labor law, and the United States ranks in the bottom twentieth percentile. We are down there with Iran and with Afghanistan. We do not comply with our own labor law. As a result, we've seen the numbers of illegal firings and discriminations shoot up from five and six hundred in the 1960s to a few thousand in the 1970s now to epidemic proportions of 23,000 to 30,000 a year.

That's why CWA and so many others support the Employee Free Choice Act. Human Rights Watch says EFCA is absolutely necessary to "help remedy glaring deficiencies in current U.S. labor law that significantly impair the right of workers."

Despite what big business says, EFCA is not a way to sneak unions into a workplace, and it doesn't eliminate "secret ballot" elections. Instead it gives the decision over elections to the workers - not management, where it rests today. Currently, employers are legally entitled to force employees to "confirm" their decision, and endure harsh anti-union campaigns where employees are harassed, intimidated, and fired for supporting union representation. In some instances, employers have been able to force workers to vote more than six times before their decision was finally accepted! EFCA levels the playing field, and that's why big business has spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting to maintain their stranglehold on employees.

Health Care Reform

With the support of President Barack Obama, CWA has joined the call for national health care reform. The high cost of health care is not only the leading cause of bankruptcy in America, but hurts our ability to compete in the global marketplace. Affordable health care is probably one of the biggest issues facing Americans today, and CWA is working hard to support passage of legislation that will ensure quality affordable health care is available to everyone. Coalitions like Health Care for America Now! stand at the forefront of this fight, and CWA is a proud member.

Trade Reform

The U.S. trade deficit continues to wreak havoc on our economy, and the effects travel far beyond the manufacturing sector. That's why CWA supports balanced trade agreements that will create genuine opportunity and make it harder for multinational corporations to move production overseas. The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act of 2009 calls for a comprehensive review of U.S. trade policy, with a priority on the interests of working families, farmers, the environment, and domestic manufacturers.

Shield law for journalists

Although most states have a shield law in place, there is still no federal protection for journalists.

Irwin Gratz, SPJ president, points out that without this legislation, protection for journalists remains an uncertain proposition.

Posner's findings have been echoed by several other judges in the past two years, leading to the increased likelihood that prosecutors would subpoena reporters. And they have. In the most notorious case to date, New York Times reporter Judy Miller has been jailed for refusing to comply with a subpoena. So, we, and other journalism groups are turning to a practical solution that has worked in 31 other states: a shield law.

CWA recognizes the importance of ensuring that the media's ability to gather information is not compromised, and is a proud supporter of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009.

Media Antitrust

Although the media conglomerates might argue that relaxing the rules on media ownership is necessary, CWA knows allowing even more local newspapers to be swallowed up will only "accelerate newspaper monopolies, thereby perpetuating a downward spiral of layoffs and closings." CWA-TNG President Bernie Lunzer spoke with Congress about the need to preserve independence and diversity, as part of this commitment to protect journalistic freedom and integrity.

Although there's no legislation related to this issue, CWA opposes any efforts to relax the rules on media ownership.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Contract Ratified

Voting Guild-members of the Los Angeles Daily News unanimously approved a new two-year contract Tuesday.

The new contract will run through June 2011 but includes language that will allow the Guild to reopen negotiations on wages after 12 months.

Negotiations between the membership bargaining committee and the company began in late February, concluding with a tentative agreement that was reached two weeks ago.

The contract is the fourth to be ratified by California Guild membership at MediaNews papers since the beginning of the year. The Press-Telegram membership ratified a new contract in January and the Bay Area News Group-East Bay and San Jose Mercury News units each ratified new contracts earlier this month.

A finalized version of the newly-ratified Daily News contract will be made available to members within the next several weeks.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A "plan" for the future

Big changes are needed in order to save journalism from the ravages of the internet.

That's the message presented by Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown, in this piece for the Washington Post. The pair have come up with five ways to save newspapers.

Some of their suggestions are well-intentioned, like a call to strengthen copyright law to prevent abuse from digital outlets. Unfortunately their focus is on search engines - and rather than accept the loss of placement that would result from being delisted by Google and others, they argue that media owners shouldn't have to lose their Web visibility, and search engines should instead pay them for the privilege of having media products in their search results, whether Google likes it or not.

Publishers should not have to choose between protecting their copyrights and shunning the search-engine databases that map the Internet. Journalism therefore needs a bright line imposed by statute: that the taking of entire Web pages by search engines, which is what powers their search functions, is not fair use but infringement.

This is obviously a losing proposition.

Another argument is to reduce business taxes on media companies and give tax incentives to buying advertising - but not, they note, with companies like Craiglist.

Congress could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist) and allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production.

While reducing taxes will certainly help media companies, it doesn't address why media outlets deserve a tax break in the first place? If the goal is to promote the public good, why not support proposed legislation like the Newspaper Revitalization Act, as recommended by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, and allow a way for media outlets to qualify for nonprofit status?

They answer that question not once, but twice. That's how many times they suggest relaxing the rules for media ownership and promoting antitrust exemptions for media conglomerates.

Whether you like the idea or not, it's worth noting that Baker Hostetler is no stranger to media ownership and antitrust law. The firm has represented most of the national media chains, including MediaNews, for a variety of issues and litigation.

Antitrust exemptions and increased consolidation may be the key to saving our industry, but it would be heartening to hear someone without a vested interest say it, instead of another expensive Washington lawyer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hiring in San Gabe

Amid the layoffs and cutbacks, MediaNews is still hiring - at least in West Covina.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune is looking for a Metro Reporter, according to this listing at

The San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group seeks a Metro reporter who can produce enterprise stories in addition to strong daily coverage. Candidates should be comfortable covering city hall, but also able to provide incisive analysis of regional issues – from the exploits of local politicians to emerging trends. Candidates should have experience writing for a daily.

Monday, May 11, 2009

LADN losses continue

We've just received word that LAUSD reporter George Sanchez is the latest casualty of MediaNews' cost cutting.

In addition to his reporting duties, Sanchez played an active role in the bargaining unit, volunteering to serve as both a steward and a member of the bargaining committee. For the newsroom, losing someone with his dedication and commitment to his fellow journalists is definitely a painful sacrifice.

We wish George nothing but the best on his future endeavors. He has our gratitude and absolute respect for his steady and insightful assistance during these difficult times.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A message of dread

Tom Hoffarth has posted a powerfully somber, candid reflection on the loss of colleague Tony Jackson, and the state of sports journalism in Los Angeles County. Equal parts sadness and frustration, Hoffarth's drafted an elegy that doesn't cover any new ground, yet manages to grab your attention anyways. In a few blunt words, he's managed to convey what many of us are feeling.

Those of us left paddling in a circle, as it sometimes feel, feel like our lifejackets keep slipping off our shoulders. We huddle up, as a good team does, and try to figure out how to tie a rope to each other and make survival last a few more weeks. Because no matter when you think that last tidal wave has come, there's another on the horizon.

So far, Hoffarth seems to have touched a never among the non-journalists in cyberspace. Commenter "gregb" posted the following:

Tony's firing was the final straw for this subscriber. The DN sports section has deteriorated tremendously in the last 18 months. Wire service copy for Clippers, Kings, Ducks, CSUN and glorified "non-wire" for the Angels. High school coverage has been reduce to "junk status."

I cancelled the paper because I will not pay metro prices for nothing more than a glorified wire service newspaper. I have been a Daily News reader since it was the Van Nuys News and a four-day a week paper. Now it will be as a non-subscriber because ownership didn't care about me as a paying customer.

Every time the staff is reduced, the circulation seems to take another hit. Maybe re-investing in the product side of our business isn't a cure-all for what's plaguing the industry, but wouldn't it be a good place to start?

Globe threatens closure*

Are there any sacred cows left? Or have things gotten so bad that literally everything is negotiable? How much of tomorrow are you willing to surrender in order to preserve today?

These are the sort of very real questions facing journalists across the country. Most recently, the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents over 600 employees at the Boston Globe, has been forced to face some harsh choices. The New York Times Co. has been threatening to close the paper if demands for employee concessions are not met. Since last week, representatives from the company and the employee union have been trading proposals with the hopes of reaching an agreement.

But that was last week.

As of today, the New York Times is reporting that the talks have stalled, despite claims by the employee's union that concessions exceeding the Times Company's demands. For their part, the Times Company has announced that it plans to file a notice of their intent to close the Globe within 60 days.

Dire news and tough talk are nothing new to our members here as well. Over the last year, members at the Daily News and Press-Telegram have collectively been hit with an assortment of demands, including unpaid furloughs, a 401(K) freeze, layoffs, the loss of vacation accrual, and threatened wage cuts. And there's little reason to suspect that the worst is over.

Every newsroom is different, and so is each bargaining unit. Individual members have to decide what's right for them and their coworkers, and in this day and age that's no easy task. As the demands for concessions grows louder, it's unfortunate that few among the upper echelons have been willing to make similar sacrifices. But unfair as that may or may not be, it's irrelevant. Business decisions are made by the folks in charge, and if they're not fair, what can anyone do?

If threatened with closure, is there anything that's too important to give up? Is there a line that cannot be crossed? If so, where?

What do you think?

* At the zero hour, a crisis has been averted. According to >Poynter Online, a deal has been reached with six of the paper's seven unions, so the threatened closure is no longer necessary.

But the good news ends on an ominous note:

We are disappointed, however, that we have not yet been able to reach an agreement with the Guild. Because of that, we are evaluating our
alternatives under both the Guild contract and applicable law to achieve as quickly as possible the workplace flexibility and remaining cost savings we need to help put The Globe on a sound financial footing.

For all the concessions, it appears the company is not satisfied yet. That doesn't bode well for the employees in Boston.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Layoffs continue*

MediaNews made good on its warning that further layoffs would hit the Daily News this week. According to DN steward Steve Rosenberg, staff artist Jon Gerung, metro reporters Jerry Berrios and Brandon Lowrey, and photographer Tina Burch are no longer with the company. Burch requested a buyout, and was not laid off. On the management side, Senior Editor Oscar Garza was released. Three managers were also reassigned into the newsroom.

There are rumors that more layoffs could come as early as next week. We've heard nothing to substantiate this information yet, and are actively seeking details from the company.

This is absolutely frustrating for the newsroom at the Daily News, who continue to struggle against a management structure that seems to value them less each week. Despite furloughs, 401(K) suspensions, incessant layoffs, a lack of communication from senior executives, and the threat of a contract that will give them no rights and even less pay, they keep on pushing forward and giving their best to a company that offers little in return. It has to be exhausting.

And still the bloodletting continues.

It's nothing less than amazing that their newsroom, despite anemic staffing, manages to produce a daily newspaper that goes out to more than 100K readers every single day.

We've asked the newsroom to share their thoughts and offer comments on this latest round of layoffs. We'll update this post as more information arrives.

This was sent out by reporter Brandon Lowrey.

Hey all,

It's been a fun run. It was my first job out of college, and I had an idea of where this was going since a month after I was hired in February 2008. I was sure I was a goner, then, so the last 15 months have felt a little like bonus time. Really great bonus time.

I wrote this to thank you all for the fun, encouragement, puns and black humor - not to mention the opportunities.

Even as a pretty idealistic young guy, I can't deny times are depressing for our industry. Reporters are unappreciated and undervalued, both by corporate bigwigs and many in the public. I can see how some can become cynical and jaded.

But the very fact that you all keep doing is inspirational. It reminds me that there are good, smart and reasonable people out there who really want to change the world - or at least their corners of it - for the better. I wish you all the best in continuing your invaluable and incredible public service with care, compassion, reason and passion. They all really need you, whether or not they know it now.

Keep in touch,

Brandon Lowrey

* We've received an email from sports reporter Tony Jackson, who has reportedly been let go as of today. Jackson covered the Dodgers for LANG, and no mention has been made of who (if anyone) will fill his shoes on that beat. The L.A. Times has more details.

Antitrust hearing focuses on diversity

Are antitrust laws killing the newspaper industry? That's the argument media executives from made to congress this week, asking for an exemption to the laws regulating media consolidation, arguing that consolidation is the only way to preserve the industry's falling revenues.

But few have been swayed by the request so far.

Bernie Lunzer, President of the Newspaper Guild, testified that allowing MediaNews and Hearst to absorb more newspapers into their regional chains may do "do more harm than good" to readers and communities.

The largest concern we have about such a monopoly in Northern California is that an answer to the very real problems that exist in our industry will remain unanswered and that real innovation will be stifled. The two large corporations behind this initiative will only have forestalled their inevitable reckoning. The result will be underserved communities.

Lunzer isn't the only voice challenging the perceived "need" to homogenize content and reduce operations by slashing staff. Many believe that this trend toward consolidation and cost-cutting - which began long before the introduction of the internet - bears at least part of the blame for newspaper's diminished relevance.

Ryan Blethen argues that media conglomerates have been imperfect stewards for newspapers, and increasing their presence won't solve the problem.

The public-ownership model is disintegrating. That is what Congress must understand. We have a chance to put newspapers and professional journalism back in stewardship of smaller entities that care about community.

Lunzer agrees that ownership models, not industry conditions, may be the best solution for the newspaper industry.

If there is to be serious consideration of the problems facing newspapers, Congress needs to look at alternative ownership ideas, like employee stock ownership, non-profit approaches and the new L3C concept. The L3C approach would allow publications to serve a stated social purpose in exchange for the ability to accept non-profit foundation money. Smaller, more committed news operations will be more successful in providing real coverage to communities. Bigger is not better. The current financial crisis is evidence of this.

It boils down to a simple question: Why are newspapers failing? If the answer is simply that archaic print media is no match for the faster, leaner online competition, then consolidation seems to make sense. But that argument overlooks the fact that for most community newspapers, there is no natural online competition. The internet is a boon for economies of scale, where your market is quite literally national, if not global. For most newspapers, this isn't the case. And there are few community-centric online newsgathering operations, and virtually none that operate on the scale of a local newspaper.

In other words, newspapers have stacked the table against themselves by relying on national and international content that puts them squarely at odds with online outlets. Wire news is cheaper - but the competition, as we've seen, is much stiffer. That's a fight most print outlets have been unable to win.

It's true that classified advertising is gone, or severely diminished, and those losses have hurt the industry. And there's no indication that money will ever come back. But the revenue losses from classified advertising alone aren't enough to put most newspapers out of business. Adjusting projections and expectations to more modest goals, and focusing on developing content that's truly relevant will do more to preserve newspaper fortunes than simply drawing more ink out of the same tired well, and running identical pages across several newspapers, in a region that's larger than many states. Readers are smart enough to know when they're not being served, and the earnings sheet reflects their disappointment. More of the same won't change that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Proposal could avert layoffs

MediaNews has informed the Guild that it intends to lay off five newsroom staffers at the Los Angeles Daily news by the end of the week as part of its declared need to reduce Daily News newsroom expenses by 15 percent. As reported yesterday to Guild members, the positions identified by the company include three metro reporters, one photographer and one graphic artist.

The Guild has been discussing a plan with the company that could avert or reduce the planned lay offs by allowing some workers at the Daily News to volunteer for a reduced work week for a period of six months.

While the Guild is opposed to any reduction in force by the company, such a plan may offer an option in lieu of more drastic workforce reductions.

Guild members that opt to take the reduced hours under the proposed plan would retain the same hourly rate of pay and still receive all health benefits afforded to full time employees.

Guild representatives are meeting with the company on Wednesday to further discuss this proposal.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesday Roundup

Three plus six equals one

It's been confirmed that April 20 is LANG's D-Day for transferring copy editors of the Daily News, PT and Breeze to the universal copy desk at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune facility in West Covina. Daily Breeze EiC Phillip Sanfield sent out a memo on Monday informing Breeze and former-PT copy editors that Monday April 20, the day following Long Beach Grand Prix coverage, would be their first day in West Covina. Daily News employees report being told the same date.

MediaNews options

Gary Scott has an excellent article on the options available to MediaNews Group in the wake of the foreberance agreement recently negotiated with its lenders and announced last week. This includes a startling prediction by former Los Angeles Daily News editor Ron Kaye that MediaNews will unload all of the LANG papers and be gone from Southern California by mid-summer.

Better late than never

After years of giving away content for free on the Internet and letting online aggregators steal content with few repercussions, it appears that the newspaper industry is finally beginning to see that content costs money to generate and news organizations should be compensated for this work appearing in the digital world.

The AP on Monday announced that while it prefers to work out solutions with websites now using its content without permission, such as Huffington Post, Yahoo and Google, the trade association would resort to legal remedies to either block unpermitted use of AP content or force such users to pay for the content.

“We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories,“ AP Chairman and MNG head Dean Singleton said at the AP annual meeting being held in San Diego. "We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it any more," said Singleton, using the oft-quoted line from mentally deranged and obsolete newsman Howard Beal from the film "Network."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday round-up

MediaNews Group has reached a forbearance agreement with its lenders, according to a report in the New York Times. A forbearance agreement is where the debtor and the creditor both acknowledge there is a financial problem and arrange a payment schedule that will allow the debtor to make moves to regain its financial footing. While not specified in the NYT article, it should be noted that forbearance agreements typically include a drop-dead date by which time the debtor must straighten out its finances or face default to the lenders. This could all mean that unless MNG revenues dramatically increase, more "cost cutting" is likely.

The Los Angeles Newspaper Group announced further company-wide cost cutting measures Thursday. The latest move freezes vacation accrual for all non-Guild employees, as well as management, between April 5 and July 4. LANG is also asking these employees to take any vacation time already on the books.
The move does not apply to LANG employees under a Guild contract at the Press-Telegram and the Daily News.
Gary Scott at reporter-g and LA Observed have posted several internal management memos explaining the freeze from the MNG perspective.

Monday, March 30, 2009

NLRB issues preliminary ruling on charges

Officials at the regional National Labor Relations Board have filed a Motion for Default Judgment against the Press-Telegram over our charges that the newspaper violated federal labor laws in March 2008 by moving P-T Guild members to the non-union Daily Breeze and laying off others.

In filing the motion, the Region 21 counsel calls for the NLRB to find in favor of the Guild on all counts.

The counsel said in the motion that because the P-T did not "file an answer within the time and in the manner prescribed by the [National Labor Relations] Board's Rules and Regulations, all allegations in the complaint shall be deemed to be true and have been so found by the Board." 

If the Region 21 motion goes forward, the decision includes a list of possible remedies, including (but not limited to) back pay and benefits, plus interest, for the employees laid off by the company. Transferred employees could receive compensation for any wages and/or other benefits lost to them as a result of their transfer.

Responding to the Board's decision, the company filed a request to extend the deadline. According to the company's request, their failure to respond was the Guild's fault, and the company should not suffer any consequences for ignoring the numerous notices and letters issued by the board over the last several months.

In January of this year, the P-T received an order that consolidated the Guild’s cases and a copy of the consolidated complaint along with the hearing date notice. Then in February the NLRB sent yet another copy of the complaint to the P-T. When the company continued to ignore NLRB requests, the board informed the P-T on Feb. 24 that "it had 7 days to file an answer, and failure to do so would result in a filing for default judgment."

The P-T repeatedly failed to answer the "consolidated complaints" as required by the NLRB’s Rules and Regulations, even when notified of the legal necessity for filing a timely answer. (The company was served notice of the Guild's first NLRB charges in August 2008 and again in September 2008. It also received copies of amended charges, first in October of last year and then again in November.)

On March 26, the company filed a request for a deadline extension. In the filing, the company argues to the NLRB that both parties had reached an "agreement in principle" on all charges and that is why, it alleges, it did not respond to the NLRB complaints. (Late February was the final deadline for the company to respond however, so the company would have already received the notice of an imminent decision by the Board.)

P-T management and Guild officials had a brief conversation earlier this year in which they discussed that all affected persons should be "made whole" - but details had not been worked out. The Guild conducted a survey of the workers impacted by the March 2008 layoffs and transfers to help it determine what a reasonable settlement should look like.

The Guild has not received a written settlement offer from the P-T.

The five-member panel at the NLRB in Washington, D.C. will now have to vote on the Region 21 motion, however the board currently has only two sitting members, one a recent Obama Administration appointee and the other a Republican holdover from the previous administration. This fails to meet the board's required three-member quorum to hold a vote. Like many federal boards, the NLRB panel is required to be made of no more than three members of the majority party. Due to the quorum rule, a vote on the Region 21 motion will have to wait until President Obama appoints at least one more member.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A way to (non)profits?

Since last year, we've been reporting on the rise in nonprofit news ventures. Now, one U.S. senator is trying to make that option a little easier.

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), has introduced a bill to allow newspapers to restructure into nonprofit organizations.

This effort, which currently has no co-sponsors, gives newspapers the option to "operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies," according to the Reuters article.

This seems like a no brainer. NPR and PBS offer valuable coverage that's often not available from traditional profit-driven media. But their small-scale coverage - local and community news - is virtually nonexistent. Cardin's bill would enable community papers to complement other nonprofit media outlets, and ensure that our right to information is not capriciously wiped out.

And in the abstract, widespread nonprofit community newspapers might hold the key to reinventing journalism as we know it.

We are unabashedly optimistic about print journalism. Not because we believe that the printed page is essential - but because people will always care about the mundane, day-to-day events that shape their lives. More often than not, local newspapers have the operational resources to get the story faster and more efficiently, and it on a larger scale, than anyone else in town.

But newsrooms have been under attack for decades, a slow erosion based on a business model that believes readers are the product, and advertisers are the customer. Content and news are just a means to an end.

Nonprofit newspapers, dedicated to providing earnest, quality journalism could undo all that. If nonprofit news gains market share, it could re-establish the primacy of content, and provide a total rebuke to the argument that one-size-fits-all, shared content is good enough for readers.

Still, it's unclear how viable nonprofit status is for papers like the Press-Telegram or the Daily News. There are requirements that would significantly impact the owner and debt structure of MediaNews, and there's virtually no reason to believe the company would consider the idea.

A digital copy of the bill can be found here.

What do you think? Is nonprofit news the future of the industry? If you support community news and want to help protect the future of journalism, contact your state senator and ask for their support on this issue.

Barbara Boxer can be reached here or at (213) 894-5000.

Diane Feinstein can be reached here or at (310) 914-7300 .

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Denver slashes in Rocky's wake

The MediaNews Group-owned Denver Newspaper Agency, which provides non-newsroom services for the Denver Post, fired 40 people on Friday and is set to let another 160 people go in the coming weeks, according to the Denver Business Journal.

The DNA, which was created to consolidate business services for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, had been expected to slash its staff following the demise of the Rocky last month. Former LANG head and current DNA president and CEO Gerald Grilly said that the cuts will help DNA "shape a new business model' to adapt to "new market realities."

“We are not just ink on paper anymore," said Grilly about the cuts. "We are true information providers across many platforms."

There is certainly increased competition, and responding to the challenges of the digital era is the biggest obstacle facing newspapers today. But this attitude might come as a surprise to many LANG employees - especially all of the online and "new" media staff that have been slashed throughout MediaNews over the past several years. There has yet to be a cogent argument that justifies trimming resources and reducing the core business at a time of increased competition. Yet the industry response to new challenges has always been to retreat, regroup, and far too often, surrender. We can only hope that any new business strategy not only recognizes the importance of reducing costs, but the value in strengthening the product and the newsrooms that produce it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

3/20 bargaining update

The latest email update went out, and it seems this session was a step back from our recent progress.

Even though the Guild agreed to a company proposal to accept wage freezes if they're implemented across LANG, and allow wage freezes to restrict negotiated raises, the company amended their proposal this session to include a provision that would eliminate negotiations over wage freezes altogether.

Their proposal also replaced the second year's 2% wage increase with a "wage re-opener" - essentially deferring the discussion, with no guarantee of employees receiving anything.

The company did not address Guild proposals regarding severance or vacation accrual.

Although the company is still trying to enable managers to perform bargaining unit work, MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga said the company was considering reclassifying some of the currently-exempt management staffers as Guild unit members, in light of their regular performance of Guild work.

The next session is scheduled for Thursday, April 2. If you have any questions or concerns, contact Vicki Di Paolo at 562.259.9430 or

Friday, March 20, 2009

No news is...good news?

News organizations are fond of defending free speech and the importance of keeping the public informed. MediaNews is no different - unless that news is about the company itself.

In a move reminiscent of the MNG decision to cease filing financial reports with federal regulators, the company has asked Standard & Poor's to withdraw all credit ratings for the company.

The request is presumably a reaction to news that the company's credit rating has been cut yet again, from CCC+ to CCC, a rating that indicates "high default risk" investments.

The upshot, if there is one, will be that the company might stave off further bad news that would presumably deepen the tarnish that has engulfed the company for the better part of a decade. But is no news really good news? Does it matter that S&P will no longer report on MNG's steady slide down the credit ratings ladder until the company is now hanging at nearly the bottom rung with its legs flailing over a bottomless chasm?

The more likely reality is that the further MNG retreats into solipsism and isolation, the more distorted and unclear the truth will become to those attempting to plan their way out of this mess. And that same enigmatic shroud will also hinder any other entity that might consider reaching down to MNG with a deal that would help them back up the ladder.

Perhaps it's painfully naive, but taking an honest account of the situation, warts and all, might be for the best. And honestly, right now Singleton and company can't afford to make it harder for anyone that wants to bring back the days when company news is a source of pride.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MediaNews rating drops...again

As if Dean Singleton does not have enough worries just finding enough advertising, now Standard & Poor's is on his back yet again.

MediaNews has taken another hit at the hands of the credit agency, sinking further into the morass of junk status. This time he's not alone--the Orange County Register had their rating downgraded too.

S&P cited steeply declining cash flow as a main reason for the decision. This can only mean that Singleton and his crew will be looking for ways to cut costs even further. Given that the Press-Telegram has a year moratorium on Guild layoffs and the Daily News has just gone through another round of cuts, there are only a few other pins on the SoCal LANG map for the company to look at.

MediaNews' Jim Janiga however offered some reassuring words recently, telling Daily News bargaining committee members that he could not "see us operating with fewer people."

Singleton had some thoughts to share recently on the situation at the Hearst-owned and Guild-represented San Francisco Chronicle, which reportedly lost more than $50 million last year. For some reason, he thinks it would be a "good idea" if the federal government waived anti-trust restriction and let all the Bay Area papers be owned by one company. Any guesses which company he would vote for?

U-T finds buyer

In other industry news, the San Diego Union-Tribune, on the selling block since July, has found a buyer in Beverly Hills-based private equity firm Platinum Equity. U-T watchers expect that the paper is likely to suffer serious cuts after the takeover and see many of its assets sold off, including a portfolio of more than $100 million of San Diego-area real estate. While details of the transaction were not revealed, U-T owner Copley reportedly sold the U-T for $20 million to $50 million, a fraction of its likely asset value.

Monday, March 16, 2009

3/16 bargaining update

This session provided some definite signs of progress, and even an acknowledgment from company rep Jim Janiga that cutting the newsroom isn't in the company's best interests.

The team continued their push to protect bargaining unit work, but offered a proposal that would provide for work currently performed by management would stay intact for six months, provided that Guild staffing levels aren't affected.

In response to industry conditions, the team also stated they would agree to a proposal that would tie wage freezes at the DN to the rest of MediaNews, which could temporarily impact the unit's two-percent raise for as long as MediaNews has a wage freeze in place.

The team told the Employer they would agree to raising the cell phone stipend to $10, and continued to push for a higher vacation cap, as well as an enhanced severance package for laid off employees.

The company will offer their response at the next session, tentatively scheduled for Thursday the 19th. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Guild rep Vicki Di Paolo at 562.259.9430 or

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Briefly ...

NoCal Guild votes Thursday (March 12) on contract changes that may keep the SF Chronicle publishing – California Media Workers Guild

Sacramento Bee cuts 11% of its staff, Modesto Bee staff agrees to wage reductions. Agreements made to stave off job cuts – McClatchy Bee Bulletin

Round-up of negotiations and news in Seattle –

Final days for the Seattle P-I? – The Stranger

Is I-News old news?

Big Labor and Big Business meet today on Capitol Hill as the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act begins in earnest this week– Three testify before the Senate: "This is a fairness issue. The system of employee-employer relations is fundamentally lopsided. There’s a need to level the playing field, to redress a great imbalance. When a system is in such fundamental imbalance, it is our obligation on both sides of the aisle to remedy that."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

3/3 bargaining update

This session's update includes a lot of new information. We're aware of members' concerns over managers performing bargaining unit work, and Guild rep Vicki Di Paolo addressed those concerns, and a grievance was filed against the company over the practice.

Additionally, tentative agreements were reached on the following issues:

- Employees who work more than 20 hours a week are eligible for prorated benefits after one year.

- An increase in the night differential from $3.50 to $3.60.

- Non-employee Guild representatives have been allowed access to the Daily News offices.

Lastly, the company made a surprising proposal to the team.

In a departure from previous negotiations, the company also proposed wage reductions for Guild employees if non-Guild employees suffer that fate.

There's been no word on an official response yet, but obviously the proposal probably isn't welcome news for many employees.

The next bargaining session is March 16. If you have questions or comments, please contact Guild rep Vicki Di Paolo at 562.259.9430

Final Edition

A member asked us to share the following with everyone.

How is it relevant you ask? We all talk in the newsroom and are convinced that the paper won't be around.

Regina Combs at Poynter Online tells the story behind Final Edition, a somber look back at the loss of yet another civic institution.

Although no one needs to be reminded just what's at stake, and just how badly things can get, it just might be essential to be remember that a newspaper is more than simply a business.

"I'll tell you what. If you take out our paper, people will not be informed any more. And an uninformed society breeds a lot of social evils."

Feds subsidize COBRA coverage for recently laid off

According to the Department of Labor, the recently-signed economic stimulus package has provisions that should be of interest to many Americans.

Under the new rules, employees who are laid off between Sept. 1, 2008 and the end of 2009 will be eligible for subsidized medical coverage from the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) program. March is first month of the subsidy program.
Individuals eligible for COBRA coverage who were involuntarily terminated by their employer on or after September 1, 2008 through December 31, 2009 who are eligible for COBRA and elect COBRA may be eligible to pay a reduced premium amount that is only 35% of the premium costs for your COBRA coverage.
Laid off employees who have not yet signed up for COBRA have a 60-day window to apply, starting from the date they receive notification of eligibility. Employees that have already waived their COBRA coverage may revoke their waiver before the end of the 60-day period.

More information is available at the Employee Benefits Security Administration's COBRA continuation page.

Friday, February 27, 2009

2/26 bargaining update

The latest bargaining update has been sent via email to our members, and this was a busy session. Several proposals were made by the Guild. We'll focus on the main areas in this recap:

Wages are obviously a huge concern for everyone. The Guild is currently asking for no immediate raise, just a stabilization of wages, with a 3% pay increase after a year. The company countered with an offer of 0% at ratification and 2% after a year, plus elimination of merit raises.

All employees who are at scale would receive the increase as long as there was not a wage freeze in place for non-bargaining unit employees. An increase for employees earning above the wage scales would be subject to approval by management.

Job security is another key issue for our members, and the bargaining team " strongly rejected a MediaNews proposal that would add language to the upcoming contract that specifically allows managers to do bargaining-unit work," according to the email.

While we have seen an increase in managers performing the writing and editing duties that should be done by union employees, we don’t condone the practice.

Vacation proposals continued after last sessions discussion. In response to the company's proposal to cut the accrual cap to one year, the Guild asked for two weeks above that limit.

The rest of the session focused on changes to the night differential, severance pay and medical benefits for laid-off workers, cell-phone reimbursement, and layoff notification for future layoffs.

The next session is on Monday, March 2 Tuesday, March 3. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Guild rep Vicki Di Paolo at 562.259.9430

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Questions loom as Rocky falls

E.W. Scripps said it will shutter the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News on Friday, ending 150 years of continuous operation and adding more than 200 union newsroom staffers to the unemployment rolls.

The move comes one day after union workers represented by the Denver Newspaper Guild reached a tentative agreement on wage and benefit concessions with a joint operating agency that publishes the Rocky and the MediaNews-owned Denver Post.

It remains unclear how the Scripps move will affect the Guild’s tentative agreement and the future existence of the DNA.

Citing declining revenues and the national economy, Scripps said it was forced to close the Rocky three months after putting the paper up for sale on Dec. 4, 2008, because a buyer had not been found.

Scripps, which bought the paper in 1926, said that although the paper will cease publishing Friday, employees will stay on the payroll through April 28.

Scripps officials told employees in the Rocky newsroom that the firm’s lawyers were discussing the move and its implications with union officials.

The DNA had sought concessions from six unions totaling $18 million to help the agency renegotiate $130 million in debt. Additionally, MediaNews sought $2 million in concessions at the Post. Two additional unions have yet to reach an agreement on the concessions.

The loss of the Rocky will leave the Post as the only major daily in Denver.

In the past decade the Rocky has been awarded 10 Pulitzer Prizes and many of the paper's departments, including the sports, business, and photo desks, have consistently been named some of the best in the nation.

The Rocky, first published 1859, is Colorado's oldest newspaper as is considered the state's longest continuously operated business.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LANG policy warning

We'd like to remind LANG employees that our employer, like many firms, has a company-wide policy in place restricting the use of company equipment to company business-related purposes only.

This includes, but is not limited to: phone systems, work e-mail, Unisys chat messaging systems, and internet browser software. In at least one recent incident, our employer has disciplined a Guild member for private comments made on the Unisys chat system. Previous incidents have also indicated that the company monitors website visits and traffic by employees.

Any use of LANG electronic equipment creates an electronic record that can be accessed at any time, and these records can be used to discipline employees for any perceived violation of the firm's equipment-use policy.

While our leadership is moving the discipline of its member to the grievance process, it is important for all employees to note this apparent shift toward enforcement of the equipment-use policy and take appropriate protective measures.

We also recommend that any personal communications, no matter how benign, be handled through personal equipment, such as personal laptop, cell phones or PDAs. It is also highly recommended that personal messages of any kind NOT be transmitted through your company-provided email account, as the employer may find any such personal use a violation of the company-wide policy.

If you have any questions regarding this situation, please feel free to contact Vicki Di Paolo at 562.259.9430.

Labor gains friend in D.C.

In a serious rebuke to the former Bush Administration's labor policies, California Rep. Hilda Solis was overwhelmingly confirmed today as U.S. Labor Secretary. Arguably a major turnaround for journalists and other working Americans, the decision came after Republican senators backed away from a threatened filibuster of Solis' nomination. Solis was confirmed today by a vote of 80-17.

This is perhaps one of the biggest developments and cause for hope among every American employee struggling for justice and equality. Solis has been a champion for workers' rights for the length of her political career.

The fight over her nomination stemmed from her vocal support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which has polarized national opinion on workers' rights to unionize.

Solis is a long-time supporter of the CWA and The Newspaper Guild and we look forward to working with her to improve the rights and working conditions of our current and future members.

"A Closer Look at the Employee Free Choice Act"

Hernandez exits, takes popular blog private

LANG's unfortunate decision last week to continue slashing its workforce added well-known Daily News columnist and reporter Greg Hernandez to the list of laid off talent. However, we are pleased that Greg's popular entertainment industry blog Out in Hollywood will continue under his personal control.
I first want you to know this: The Daily News has graciously consented to my taking the blog and its archives with me so Out in Hollywood will continue as a private enterprise with fresh content later this week (details to come).
Following negotiations between the Guild and the company, we're pleased that Greg, a long-term Guild member, can now continue doing the work he loves. We're certain that he will make it even more successful in the coming years. Greg is one of many LANG employees in recent years to create, develop, and nurture a highly successful blog under the LANG banner.

Greg is a true talent and we wish him ongoing success with Out in Hollywood.

DN: Less is more

The Daily News has announced finalized plans for its impending redesign of the paper.

Calling it more "reader friendly," the redesigned Daily News will no longer have dedicated Business and Opinion pages in the Monday edition. There are also several minor structuring changes - comics and puzzles have been moved to the front section on both Mondays and Tuesdays, for example.

Readers are decidedly nonplussed by the announcement. One commenter, posting to the DN's Topix board, calls the decision part of the "intentional suicide of an industry". Another poster expressed concern about the ever-shrinking size of the paper : "No opinion on Monday, what no one cares on Mondays? "

In tough financial times, tough financial decisions are understandable. However, reducing the amount of quality journalism to the community benefits no one and does nothing to improve the long-term viabilty of the newspaper.

Monday, February 23, 2009

2/23 bargaining update

The latest bargaining update has been sent to members via email, and despite news of layoffs - according to Guild calculations, the latest cuts cut the newsroom staff by nearly one-fifth - negotiations remain productive and amicable.

Among the topics discussed at this session was the list of management positions on the Guild-exempt list. Several obsolete positions were removed by mutual agreement, and replaced by current management slots.

Another new change is the addition of dues check-off, which will enable members to have Guild dues paid automatically.

The remainder of the session focused on vacation accrual. The company is seeking to significantly reduce the accrual cap to the amount of vacation earned in one year. The Guild is looking at options to the company's proposal.

The next session is Thursday, Feb. 26. The bargaining team will focus on the vacation proposal along with job security, holiday policies, overtime issues and compensation.

If you have any questions or concerns about bargaining or any other Guild issue, please contact one of your stewards or email us.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Busy week for LANG union

The good...

Sorry for the lag in updates, this week has been crazy!

Lots of news to report. We'd like to welcome Keith Higginbotham to the team. Keith is a former Press-Telegram writer and all around smart guy. He'll be working to help facilitate communications between the units, and coordinate our various projects, community outreach, and other activities.

Keith and the rest of the team spent this week with representatives from the Bay Area News Group (BANG), who came down to learn a little about our operations, and share their insights on organizing within the MediaNews empire. As always strength in numbers is the name of the game, and we're building a closer relationship with our northern counterparts so everyone working in MNG will have the best, most comprehensive information and tools available to them.
Karl Fischer, Jeremiah Oshan, and Pia Basudev spent time with Lesley Phillips, Keith, and me as we visited LANG properties, spoke with members, and leanred more about the issues facing Southern California journalists.

The bad...

As you've probably heard, the buyouts have been accepted and implemented. We'd like to extend our best wishes to Carol Bidwell, Alan McCabe, Melinda Kough, Sharon Kaplan, and copy desk chief Ed Richeson. We understand that the decision to move on was not made lightly, and we hope they find success wherever life takes them.

...and the even worse

In addition to the buyouts, the DN is also implementing layoffs. Television critic David Kronke, photographer Andy Holzman, and web producer Julio Morales were let go this week, and we have information that more layoffs are scheduled soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Questions about consolidation

MediaNews' copy desk consolidation plan is in effect, and more papers are potentially scheduled to move operations to San Gabriel very soon. As plans for a universal desk move forward, our goal is to ensure that our members are heard, and that this transition is as effective and trouble-free as possible. To meet that goal, we need your input.

We are reaching out to anyone on the copy desk, union or otherwise, about LANG's plans for a universal copy desk.

In order to learn how the plans will affect you, we've drafted this survey. Please click on the link and fill it out when you have the time.

The goal we hope to achieve from the survey results is it to develop a better
understanding of copy editors’ concerns so we can help our Guild
members there reach out to and better frame discussions with the non-
union folks.

If your operations haven't been consolidated yet, what is your biggest concern?

If you're already working at the universal desk, what needs to be improved?

We know you have ideas that can make this work better, and create a more stable and effective work environment. With your help, we'll bring these ideas to the company and push for coordination to examine areas that can be improved or modified.

For instance, one of our Daily News CEs said that leaving a slot editor and designer at each paper to would help maintain local identity and ensure accuracy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Transfer news update, more layoffs ahead

In an email sent out today, the Guild reports on negotiations over the potential transfer of the DN copy desk, and describe company plans for further layoffs.

The initial number of employees to be laid off is listed as eight, with a more detailed list of positions to follow. It's said these layoffs are separate from the copy desk transfer, and presumably any losses that may occur as a result of the transfer.

The email also clarifies the status of the copy desk transfer. According to MediaNews SVP of HR Jim Janiga, the final decision to transfer the DN copy desk has not yet been made, and may occur "in March, April, or not at all."

Also new is information that the deadline to receive severance is no longer in effect, and employees may "try out" the SGVT transfer and remain eligible for severance if they decide not to continue their new assignments, according to the email.

This last decision is likely the result of concerns that "not enough employees will apply to transfer," according to the email.

The email also has a list of the effects of the transfer offer.

What would change if members accept transfer?

- vacation accrual cap

- 401(k) match

- no Guild representation

What would remain the same?

- severance benefits, and eligibility to receive EDD benefits

- sick days

- seniority

- wage rate

The company and union are working together to prepare a Q&A to clarify what is known regarding the copy desk move.

Layoffs and transfers discussions consumed all our available time, so negotiations were pushed back to the next session. If you have questions please email us at

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Buyouts, layoffs, and transfers

Our members report that Carolina Garcia, executive editor of the LADN, held meetings with staff last Friday. At the meetings, Garcia told employees that job transfers related to the upcoming copy desk consolidation will occur in March. She told the newsroom that the company would also be seeking layoffs, but any employee that volunteered for a preemptive buyout this week would receive a severance package. This plan and the proposed buyout have not been discussed with the Guild. The potential number of layoffs would be dependent on how many employees accepted the buyout offer, but initial reports suggest the target is five or six.

The details and terms of the buyout package are unclear at this time, but several employees have stepped forward in response to the offer.

There's a lot of confusion floating around over the announcement, with seemingly contradictory statements coming from management. The broad, nonspecific declarations have led to several different interpretations among the employees, and few hard details have been made available.

As of yet, the company has not negotiated the effects of the decision to move employees to the SGVT, and we're actively seeking out details and further information. If you have any information to share, please contact us at, or call Vicki Di Paolo at 562.259.9430

Monday, February 2, 2009

Guild, company reach agreement on furloughs

Guild members won protection in the event of layoffs during upcoming work furloughs and a pledge from management that all union-protected copy editors and page designers will be offered transfer to MediaNews offices in the San Gabriel Valley.

At a meeting Monday, the Guild agreed to accept five days of unpaid leave per bargaining-unit employee by March 31, 2009. Guild representatives proposed — and the company agreed — that in the event any unit member is laid off during that period, the company will pay the employee for time lost during the furlough.

"Nobody likes not to get paid for a week, but the language providing for restoration of that money, should a Guild member be laid off, at the very least, should discourage the company from making ill-advised layoffs during that period of time," said Web developer Steven Rosenberg. "Bottom line: our goal is to do everything we can to preserve the jobs of our members."

Per agreement with the company, Guild members may volunteer to take on additional furlough days to lesson the impact on fellow members already struggling to make ends meet and for whom the reduction in pay would prove to be an extreme hardship. Some members do not make enough money to live on their own and furlough days will no doubt create further distress. Additional furlough days on behalf of co-workers are subject to approval.

Upon finalization of the agreement, which will likely be as early as Tuesday, bargaining unit members can begin to select their preferred days off on the upcoming weekly schedules. To ensure there is no workplace intimidation, Guild stewards may be present during employee negotiation of furlough days

Vacation time and 401(k) contributions will continue to accrue for Guild members during furlough days.

The Guild made another significant gain Monday afternoon in ensuring that any member whose work will be moved to the San Gabriel Valley, including but not limited to copy editors and page designers, will be offered a transfer to the new site.

"Anybody who is impacted, who is working here, whose work may go to San Gabriel, will be offered the opportunity to transfer," said Media News Senior Vice President Jim Janiga during Monday's negotiations.

Janiga noted that Page One designers may remain on site in Woodland Hills, though it remains unclear who that person or persons is.

"It was reassuring to hear from Janiga that all people impacted by the consolidation will be offered the opportunity to transfer," said Andrea Hescheles, a page designer/copy editor.

The Guild also presented its second contract proposal to MediaNews Group representatives. The company withdrew its initial proposals to eliminate night-differential pay, possible reduction in the number of holidays and, furlough language that would have provided for month-long furloughs. Additionally, tentative agreements were reached on union steward leave of absence for Guild activities and a twenty-four month term for the new contract.

Daily News stewards Andrea Hescheles, Steven Rosenberg, George Sanchez and Chris Wiley were present along with CWA 9400/SCMG Vice President Vicki Di Paolo.

MediaNews was represented by Jim Janiga while Teresa Saplad took notes for company officials.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Contracts talk begin; no agreement on furloughs

Guild negotiators went to the table today to start hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement at the Daily News. The current contract expires in March. Armed with proposals which are, in the union's opinion, at the same time realistic and pragmatic given the company's current condition, the team was prepared to get down to business.

According to an email sent to bargaining unit members, the company's initial proposal is aggressive - offering no raise for two years, no restrictions on managers performing bargaining unit work, a cut to the vacation accrual cap by half and a one-month unpaid furlough for all Guild-covered employees.

Mandated unpaid furlough: MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga cited the declining economy as an explanation for the company's macabre furlough proposal. Janiga explained that a week-long furlough amounts to a 12.5 % reduction in payroll expenses for the quarter. Furloughs, he added, are unprecedented within Media News. (Furloughs are now being implemented across the chain.)
"We don't want this to all of a sudden become a regular practice," Janiga explained. "But the situation is so desperate that the if all we do is terminate and lay people off, when the business does come back, whenever that is, we will have divested ourselves of talent and we're not going to be in a position to respond as quickly when business comes back."
The bargaining team rejected the company's proposed one-month furlough language which lead to heated discussions on the company's Jan. 28 announcement of a company-wide five day furlough.

"It's clear the company's proposal is a scare tactic to ease us into accepting a five-day furlough," said committee member George Sanchez. "But we'll continue to negotiate to avoid possible layoffs and reach an agreement that's equitable for everyone."

Daily News managers have reportedly been pressuring newsroom employees to schedule unpaid time off. Sanchez said "The union's relevance became clear to me when Janiga got on the phone to order managers at the Daily News to back off union employees" regarding the furlough.

At the end of the day, no agreement had been reached on the issue. Talks continue next week.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Non-union MN employees hit with unpaid furlough*

MediaNews issued a statement today that non-union employees at all California properties will be required to take one-week unpaid furlough by the end of March, in order to lower expenses. Managers will have to take two weeks unpaid leave within the same period.

The company is interested in implementing furloughs for their union employees but such a move, it's timing and terms, must be negotiated with the Guild.

Obviously the company is in bad financial shape, and we're interested in anything that will help preserve journalism in Southern California. Our first concern is the well being of our members, and we welcome the chance to discuss the company's needs, and how they can accomplish their goals without unfairly impacting their employees.

If you have any concerns or questions on this issue, please feel free to contact your shop steward or email us at

* The Southern California Media Guild has released a statement in response to MediaNews' announcement.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blog launch timed for contract negotiations start

Welcome to the Guild's newsroom blog, brought to you and supported by Southern California Media Guild members at the Los Angeles Daily News. Here you will find information on Guild activities, bargaining updates, and news of importance to our members in Woodland Hills.

As part of our introduction, we'd like to announce that the bargaining team handling our upcoming contract negotiations with the MediaNews-owned DN has been selected, and we ask you to congratulate and thank (pictured here from left) reporter George Sanchez, copy editor Chris Wiley, web producer Steve Rosenberg and page designer Andrea Hescheles for stepping forward on behalf of their bargaining unit coworkers. (All are recently-appointed shop stewards.) We're convinced that the DN negotiations will be in good hands. Supported by their Press-Telegram and Northern California BANG-EB colleagues, they will join Guild vice president Vicki Di Paolo tomorrow at the first negotiation session with the company.

Stay tuned.