UMG members invited to march Monday in Labor Day parades

Aug 28, 2014 by Jeff

United Media Guild members have an opportunity to march in Labor Day parades in St. Louis, Springfield, Ill., Peoria and Rockford.

In St. Louis, UMG members will march with their colleagues in our parent union, the Communication Workers of America. The CWA is gathering at 8 a.m. on Sept. 1 at the corner of Olive and 23rd in downtown St. Louis. The parade, which begins at 9 a.m., moves east on Olive to Tucker, then south to Market, then west on Market.

The first 200 CWA marchers will receiver free T-shirts. The Greater St. Louis CWA City Council will provide hot dogs and refreshments after the parade. This year’s theme is “Unions Built This City!”

In Springfield, the parade begins at 10 a.m. in downtown. The parade proceeds from Jefferson to Fifth, Fifth to Capitol, Capitol to Sixth, and Sixth to Washington.

Our Springfield unit will serve as Grand Marshal of that parade — another sign of its tremendous activism in the community.

In Peoria, the parade will start at 10 a.m. in front of the fire station on Monroe and end at the Peoria Courthouse. Following the parade there will be a Labor Day Picnic at Riverfront Festival Park. This year’s theme is “50 Years — United as One!”

The Rockford parade begins at 10 a.m. from Seventh and Railroad. The parade will proceed north on Seventh to E. State, west on State to Wyman and south on Wyman before ending at the Cedar Street entrance to Davis Park. This year’s theme is “Standing United to Secure our Future.”

 

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UMG to hold Local-wide meeting Sept 13

Aug 25, 2014 by Jeff

The United Media Guild will hold its next quarterly Local Meeting at 1 p.m. Sept. 13 at Kelleher’s Pub & Eatery in Peoria.

Kelleher’s comes highly recommended by Peoria unit char Phil Lucianp. It is on the riverfront at 619 SW Water St., Peoria, Il 61602.

This meeting is open to all members of the UMG. We believe this will be an especially good time for our members at GateHouse newspapers in Illinois  to come together and discuss the challenges ahead.

Our Springfield and Rockford units are negotiating first contracts. Pekin’s first collective bargaining agreement is up and the folks there are trying to negotiate a new deal.

Springfield unit chair Dean Olsen recently sent this update for this folks:

“Several things are obvious based on the comments from the GateHouse negotiator at the bargaining table: If it were up to GateHouse, there would be no raises for several more years. There would be higher health-insurance premiums. There would be a lower mileage reimbursement rate. And the company would have continued unfettered right to expand the use of freelancers — just in case more employees leave and GateHouse wants to further increase its profits by not replacing them.

“The message GateHouse is sending to its hard-working newsroom employees is this: Just be grateful you have a job. There is no more money for you, so shut up. And those positive messages you may be hearing about the advertising department’s performance? The negotiator says we should basically ignore them. The additional money the SJ-R is earning for GateHouse, he says, needs to be funneled to corporate to prop up other newspapers elsewhere and acquire more newspapers elsewhere. In other words, GateHouse wants to keep the gravy train flowing for GateHouse executives through six- and seven-digit bonuses for them and dividends for stockholders, most of whom are GateHouse officials themselves.

“We are butting up against the issues of pay and benefits at the bargaining table, and unless the company feels more pressure from us and the community, nothing is going to happen in our favor. Absolutely nothing!

“Labor Day will kick off a new level of pressure we plan to put on GateHouse — through new literature we will distribute during the Springfield Labor Day Parade, and through a schedule of events and activities that we will hold over the next few months. It all will start with the parade, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Sept. 1 in downtown Springfield.

“I am asking labor leaders, rank-and-file union members throughout the community, civic leaders and faith leaders to stand beside us and advocate on our behalf at upcoming events. There are people out there willing to help us, but we need to continue to show the community we’re willing to help ourselves.”

Expect similar escalation in Pekin and Rockford, two good labor communities that support working people.

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KSDK-TV unit ratifies new three-year contract

Aug 22, 2014 by Jeff

The United Media Guild’s KSDK-TV unit has agreed to a new contract with Gannett.

Our members approved the deal with a unanimous vote Thursday afternoon. Here are the highlights:

  • Signing bonuses of 4 percent of annual pay for full-time employees upon the signing of the contract. (Although there are no prescribed raises in the contract, our full-time employees have been receiving regular annual raises from the company.)
  • Enhanced severance pay for employees whose jobs are outsourced.
  • Enhanced severance play for employees who lose their jobs due to technological advancements.
  • Two extra days bereavement leave, from three days to five, for the loss of a spouse or child.
  • The opportunity to explore alternate health care options to gain better coverage or lower costs.

The UMG staff is working with health care brokers to see if our members would be better off getting out of Gannett’s plan, which features very high deductibles.

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Newspaper Guild decries mistreatment of journalists in Ferguson

Aug 18, 2014 by Jeff

Reporters covering the civil unrest in Ferguson have harassed, threatened and arrested. This aggression continued Sunday night with another round of incidents as police struggled to keep the situation from getting out of control.

The Newspaper Guild sent a letter of protect to Ferguson officials, signed by TNG president Bernie Lunzer, United Media Guild business representative Shannon Duffy and UMG President Jeff Gordon.

Here is the content of that letter:

“As the nation’s largest union of journalists, including a large unit of St. Louis Post-Dispatch employees, we are writing to express our deep concern about how your city’s police officers have treated journalists covering the protests in Ferguson. We would like to meet with you to discuss strategies to prevent a repeat of these incidents.

“On Wednesday, Aug. 13, two journalists were arrested, despite clearly identifying themselves and their news organizations (The Wash­ington Post and Huffington Post), and a crew from Al Jazeera America appears to have been targeted with tear gas and rubber bullets. Other journalists also have reported unnecessarily confrontational behavior by officers.

“News reporters and photographers have the First Amendment right to record and photograph these very public events. Detaining jour­nalists, jailing them, targeting them or interfering with their work is an unacceptable violation of their rights and responsibilities. Our members cannot do their work in handcuffs or holding cells.

“We understand that large protests can be chaotic situations for officers, who must make rapid decisions to protect themselves and public safety. In other cities, including Oakland, Calif., we have successfully worked with police and city leaders to identify policies that protect journalists without compromising officer safety. We urge you to enact one such measure immediately: To instruct all local officers and those brought in for mutual aide to immediately call in a supervising officer in any conflict situation in which someone identifies as a working journalist. A PIO or supervising officer can assess the validity of the claim, and you will have avoided an em­barrassing and unconstitutional detainment.

“We want to work with you to find solutions. We request that you contact us as soon as possible to arrange a time to discuss these issues further.”

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State Journal-Register campaign gains momentum at Illinois State Fair

Aug 11, 2014 by Jeff

Several of our members at the State Journal-Register in Springfield manned an informational booth at the AFC-CIO Pavilion at the Illinois State Fair this weekend. They met with other union leaders, discussed their fight with fairgoers and gathered hundreds of support cards.

The UMG is in the second year of our fight for a first contract at the newspaper. Many veteran reporters have gone more than seven years without a raise at the GateHouse Media-owned newspaper. The newsroom has suffered drastic staffing cuts in recent years and production of the paper was moved to Peoria.

As unit chair Dean Olsen told his folks in an e-mail, “Every one of those cards represents a conversation, sometimes a fairly detailed conversation. These cards will be used in a campaign that we already know is beginning to wear on GateHouse officials and will help us negotiate a fair contract.”

Our Local is also negotiating contracts with GateHouse newspapers in Pekin and Rockford. At the fair UMG leaders also had a chance to speak to folks who read the Daily Times and the Register Star as well. Almost to a person, the readers we talked noticed the decline in quality of their newspapers since GateHouse took over.

Many of those people appear ready to support our efforts to get fair contracts that reward the work of quality journalists and help maintain the quality of those publications.

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GateHouse/New Media rewards shareholders, not employees

Aug 4, 2014 by Jeff

New Media Investment Group, parent company at GateHouse Media, has delivered on its promise to reward shareholders with dividends.

The second quarter produced free cash flow of $19.6 million, or $0.65 on a per-share basis. So the New Media Board of Directors voted to issue a 27-cent quarterly dividend.

An analyst participating in New Media’s quarterly earnings call wondered if that dividend was a bit generous. CEO Michael Reed noted that New Media’s plan all along was to pay strong dividends.

Indeed, from the outset New Media has aimed to convert free cash flow into dividends. The goal was to stand apart from similar media companies still grappling with crippling debt.

That makes sense, but the company is holding a firm economic line in negotiations with the United Media Guild at the The State Journal-Register in Springfield, the Pekin Daily Times and the Rockford Register Star. The company’s position is that is has the money to offer raises in its collective bargaining agreements but chooses not to do so at this time.

In fairness to company, it is also using some of the free cash flow to fund acquisitions. This certainly is smarter than borrowing heavily to buy new properties, a practice that plunged GateHouse and other media companies into bankruptcy.

And the pending purchases of the Providence Journal could bolster New Media in several ways. Its strong position in New England will became even stronger.

But . . . the failure to reinvest in New Media’s core product of  “compelling, high-quality local news”, as Reed likes to put it, could cause long-term audience erosion.

The UMG hears the old “if you don’t like it, leave” refrain when it presses GateHouse officials about its treatment of journalists. Churning the newsroom is a bad business strategy. That practice erases institutional knowledge and severs connections in the community.

Excessive staff reductions are also a bad idea. The profitable Rockford Register Star has proposed language that it would allow it to replace its two surviving staff photographers with free-lancers.

That would represent still another harmful cut to a newsroom decimated by lay-offs on GateHouse’s watch.

Since the foundation of New Media’s newspaper business is “strong and trusted local brands”, as Reed likes to say, diminishing the product doesn’t seem like a great long-range strategy.

We have been engaging readers in Springfield, Pekin and Rockford to see what they think of their local newspapers. Consumers notice the product erosion and many are willing to support our efforts to maintain quality journalism.

As for New Media, the company offered earth-shattering revelations during its latest earnings call. Here were a few highlights:

  • New Media recently gained more favorable financing for past, ongoing and future purchases.
  • Print advertising was down again in the second quarter, but digital advertising was up slightly (4.4 percent) and classified advertising stabilized.
  • Revenues from Propel Marketing more than doubled in one year, up to $4.5 million.
  • Circulation revenues remained stable. (But how long will readers be willing to pay more for less?)
  • Commercial printing revenues rose nearly 15 percent.
  • GateHouse/New Media remains in acquisition mode, although Reed declined to offer specifics. Disclosing how much money he had in the acquisition “pipeline” could hurt the company during purchase negotiations.

Elsewhere on the GateHouse/New Media front:

GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis made nice with Providence Journal readers with a full-page ad.

New Media Investment Group apparently will not honor existing collective bargaining agreement when its purchase of the Journal  becomes final. The seller, A.H. Belo Corp., will pay the severance on up to 40 employees who lose their jobs due to this purchase.

Folks in Providence wonder what will  become of  The Journal now that it is in the GateHouse/New Media family.

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Hard-working UMG members fuel GateHouse/New Media expansion

Jul 23, 2014 by Jeff

GateHouse Media newspapers generate strong cash flow for its parent company, New Media Investment Group.

That parent company — which grew from the ashes of GateHouse Media bankruptcy — is using some of that cash flow to help finance newspaper purchases.

After escaping more than $1 billion in debut, those folks have spent $150 million in 10 months to expand their media empire.

How can they do this? Because the surviving employees of GateHouse/New Media operations have kept doing more with less during the most challenging times this industry has ever seen.

The company quit giving regular raises years ago. Worse, it slashed news operations to the bone while simultaneously launching bold digital initiatives.

That allowed the company to keep pumping money out of its newspapers. And now that money is going towards stock dividends and asset purchases instead of debt payments.

The latest GateHouse/New Media purchase, the Providence Journal, is a great fit for the company. The company paid a premium to get it, but it gained a strong product, a good market and the ability to further consolidate operations in Southern New England.

Here are some key points about the purchase:

  • The $46 million price tag is considered high, more than twice what the Worcester Telegram & Gazette fetched. (GateHouse/New Media was reported to be on that bidding as well, but the paper sold to Halifax Media.)
  • But the T&G sale did not include a printing operation. The Journal prints its own newspaper and has other printing contracts. GateHouse/New Media regard printing operations as a key piece of its current revenue pie.
  • On the other hand, A.H. Belo is keeping the Journal’s headquarters building to sell off. GateHouse/New Media will lease the building for a year while exploring relocation options.
  • GateHouse/New Media will not assume liability for defined-benefit pension plan. Belo is maintaining that.
  • GateHouse/New Media sees the Providence market as a huge opportunity for its Propel Marketing initiative. The company believes Propel can become a major source of revenue growth once its gains traction.
  • Since GateHouse/New Media has several operations is Southern New England, it can “gain efficiencies” with this purchase.
  • The Providence Newspaper Guild represents employees of The Journal, so GateHouse/New Media will encounter resistance as it seeks further job cuts.

Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal offered this assessment:

I’ll be honest here: I was once skeptical of New Media’s aggressive acquisition ambitions. Fortress Investment Group co-founder Wes Edens first signaled that GateHouse would be an acquirer again last September, when he announced that a new version of the company would look to make as much as $1 billion in acquisitions over a three-year period. Fortress, a major investor in GateHouse and then also a major bondholder, pushed GateHouse through bankruptcy last year to erase its mountain of debt, and created New Media as a new publicly traded holding company to add to its empire. In March, New Media disclosed that it was looking at a pipeline of $150 million to $300 million worth of acquisitions. Some of this is being financed through debt, and some from the company’s operating cash flow.

So far, there have been a number of deals, big and small. Most notably, a Fortress affiliate picked up Dow Jones’ community newspapers — a group that included the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford, now part of New Media — for $82 million. In all, (CEO Michael) Reed says New Media has reached agreements to buy about $150 million worth of media properties in the past 10 months. So Reed, (COO Kirk) Davis and their team have proven their ability to make these deals, particularly so many in a short period of time. But whether they can successfully integrate them into the New Media empire while ensuring the profits continue to flow and the papers stay vital to their local communities remains an open question.

That last point is where the Guild is so critical. It is our task to protect the quality of journalism at the many GateHouse/New Media newsrooms we represent.

Some of the steps that GateHouse/New Media take — like the proposed outsourcing of all  photography at the Rockford Register Star — could cause long-term damage.

We must do all we can to ensure that these communities will benefit from strong news reporting five, 10 and 20 years down the road.

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UMG supports “Right to Report” project

Jul 21, 2014 by Jeff

The United Media Guild is gladly helping The Newspaper Guild’s “Right to Report” project. At the national level your union is supporting a national shield law to project journalists doing their job.

TNG-CWA also called on President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder “to stop and renounce their actions threatening America’s free press.”

Our Springfield unit chair, Dean Olsen, is assisting the “Right to Report” fact-finding effort. He is an award-winning reporter for the State Journal-Register.

Lena Williams, a retired New York Times reporter and former vice president of the New York Guild, wrote this overview of the issue for TNG-CWA:

More than ever, journalists around the country are being subpoenaed and threatened with imprisonment for doing their jobs and standing by their principles. The increased pressure to reveal confidential sources or testify in court strikes at the heart of the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have passed shield laws, but the vary in the form and scope of protections. Some apply to civil but not criminal proceedings. Others protect journalists from revealing confidential sources but not other information.

A federal shield law, the Free Flow of Information Act, has been languishing in Congress since 2007 and appears to be months away from a vote in the Senate. The law prohibits a federal entity – employees of the judicial or executive branch or an administrative agency of the federal government – from “compelling a covered journalist” to disclose protected information.

The Newspaper Guild-CWA and more than 50 media companies and organizations are urging Senate leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote.

The urgency to enact Federal legislation comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal from New York Times reporter, James Risen.

In 2011, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Risen to testify about the source of classified information used for his 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” Risen has refused to identify the source and is facing what could be a lengthy jail sentence.

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Risen’s appeal underscores the vital need for a national shield law, legislation that the White House claims to support,” Guild President Bernie Lunzer said. “Many journalists report that the government’s crackdown in the absence of such a law is having a chilling effect on whistleblowers with information about government waste and wrongdoing. The people most harmed are American citizens, as the blinds are pulled on the window to transparent government.”

The Free Flow of Information Act will help, but not solve, all of the challenges modern-day journalists face on the job, and includes flawed approaches to fixing a fundamental problem.

The bill establishes a qualified privilege for journalists to withhold confidential information “unless a judge makes a determination to compel disclosure” under conditions that apply differently in criminal or civil matters or determines that “all reasonable alternative sources” have been exhausted.

“Covered journalists” are defined as those working for media organizations, outlets or services that disseminate news or information by various means. What is uncertain is whether the law would cover bloggers or students.

Courts have already weighed in on cases to determine when shield laws should apply to people working for non-traditional media outlets or as independent freelance writers. In a 2010 case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court adopted a broad definition of journalists to include an online website. One year later, a U.S. District Court in Oregon ruled that a blogger was not a journalist and not protected by the state’s shield law.

That legal quagmire is affecting a growing number of bloggers, said Sonny Albarado, a past president of the Society of Professional Journalists, which has lobbied for passage of a federal shield law.

“In the national shield law there is a definition as to what constitutes an act of journalism,” Albarado said in a recent telephone interview from his offices at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock where he supervises a team of investigative reporters. “There are members of the Senate who don’t want bloggers or those without news organizations to be covered. There is a reluctance because it’s so amorphous.”

Albarado said his members believe the Senate should focus on whether the person was engaged in disseminating information to a broad audience or “just standing on a soap box.”

“I’ve talked to journalists who say we ought to define who deserves to be called journalists,” said Albarado. “I don’t feel that way but I see their point.”

Last week, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla, pushed an amendment to an appropriations bill through the House that would block the Justice Department from compelling journalists to testify about confidential sources and information. The amendment passed by a vote of 225-183.

“It is completely incongruous to say we have freedom of the press but the federal government can subpoena your sources and put them and you in prison if you don’t comply,” Grayson said.

For now all journalists can do is wait and see.

The Senate appears in no hurry to push the bill to the floor for a vote and is likely to recess for the summer without taking action on the law, leaving journalists in limbo and Risen a step closer to jail.

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