Press Club offers enterprise reporting grants

May 7, 2015 by

The Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis invites area journalists to apply for enterprise reporting grants to cover the cost of in-depth journalism of interest to its region.

The grants of up to $10,000 are used to defray costs for freelance journalists or staff journalists lacking the resources to do this type of reporting.

“Great journalism is both labor intensive and at times costly,” long-time St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Dick Weiss said after helping establish the grant fun in 2009. “If we want to see reporting that genuinely improves and enhances civic life, we will have to find a way to pay for it. One way to do that is to reach into our pockets and make a donation just as we do for other civic assets, such as the Saint Louis Symphony, Art Museum, and Forest Park. In this case, the assets are our region’s talented journalists.”

The project could be investigative or explanatory in nature with the requirement that the story or stories be presented locally in print, online on radio or television. The money could be used to cover expenses, travel or simply pay for a reporter’s time in preparing the story.

The program was firsts offered at a time when the region’s media outlets were suffering through the worst recession in decades and had cut their staffs and reporting budgets. Six years later, that is still the case.

All journalists in print, broadcast, and online are eligible to submit a story idea and apply for a grant. A Press Club committee reviews the application and determine whether to offer a grant.

Selection criteria includes the applicant’s demonstrated commitment to reporting stories with a strong local interest, the impact the proposed story will have on the community and a determination of which candidates most need the resources. Proposals are considered as they are submitted so that the stories can be produced on a timely basis.

For more information, contact the Press Club

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GateHouse properties rake in money, but questions remain

May 1, 2015 by

The New Media Investment Group’s quarterly earnings report was full of happy news. The parent company of GateHouse Media is doing great.

• Thanks to the profits ($19.1 million in free cash flow) pouring out of markets like Springfield, Peoria and Rockford, the New Media board boosted dividends by 10 percent, to from 30 cents to 33 cents per share.

• Although New Media Investment Group stock got a nice bump, up to nearly $24 per share, after this news broke. Media analysts remain bullish on the stock, projecting further growth.

• The company raised $152 million with a new equity offering. That helped keep New Media in acquisition mode while keeping its debt ($373 million) within reason.

• After acquiring Halifax Media and substantial assets from Stephens Media, the company pursued additional deals. More deals “are in the pipeline” as CEO Michael Reed noted. It expects to meet its goal of $1 billion in acquisitions by the end of 2016.

• Propel Marketing revenues were up 51 percent on a “same story basis”.

• The company is positioned to pay minimal taxes for years to come.

Despite all of this happy news, the company is maintaining a hard line in Guild negotiations, offering no raises to journalists who have endured a years-long wage freeze at highly profitable newspaper operations.

Good news for our members to take from the earnings call: When an analyst asked about further cost cutting at the newspapers, the company noted it was “in the late innings of cost reductions.” So there’s that. Perhaps the raises will come in extra innings.

Bad news for our members: The company noted its real estate holdings of $175 million to $200 million, which could be liquidated to keep the cash flow pouring out of the markets.

The newspaper buildings could be sold outright or sold with a lease-back arrangement for the newspapers. So our journalists shouldn’t be too comfortable at their desks.

(For those wondering if Wes Edens and Fortress Investments are doing OK, worry not. Fortress raked in a $2.9 million management fee for being the money guys behind this whole adventure.)

Reed and other New Media executives fielded questions from analysts, who focused on numbers crunching instead of core business issues.

Here are questions analysts should have asked:

How long will New Media/GateHouse properties remain “strong, trusted local brands” in the face of relentless cost-cutting, constant staff turnover and shrinking news holes in the print product?

The Guild will continue engaging readers in key New Media markets like Providence, Springfield and Rockford where our contract battles are ongoing. Our public campaigns have hit a responsive chord with readers who are well aware of the declining quality of these “strong, trusted local brands” under GateHouse management.

When will New Media invest more in its core product, journalism?

In its news release, New Media noted: “As the Company continues to grow through acquisitions, we are able to leverage our scale to increase our buying power and offset our continued investments in corporate infrastructure, digital initiatives and tuck-in acquisitions.”

Ah, but what about the news-gathering operations? Those are a fraction of their pre-GateHouse size. The loss of reporting experience and institutional knowledge is exacerbated by the outsourcing of copy editing functions to employees in Austin, Texas — who have little knowledge of the communities served by the newspapers.

Can the company maintain “strong, trusted brands” with this approach?

How long will circulation revenue — the largest single revenue piece at 32 percent — remain a “stable category”?

Print circulation is declining at New Media properties, in some cases precipitously. The company has offset that revenue loss by raising prices. After buying the Providence Journal, for instance, the company doubled the newsstand price. Can New Media keep charging more and more for a smaller and smaller newspaper? Can New Media build a stronger digital subscription base with less and less quality content?

Is the acquisition spree masking so-so performance of the stripped down existing properties?

As Saibus Research noted, “Although NEWM has posted impressive reported growth due to its acquisition spree, its adjusted pro forma results are underwhelming.”

Can the growth Propel Marketing offset the steady decline of print advertising?

Propel may be a “growth lever” as analysts would say, but it is a small lever. Earlier this year, Saibus Research noted this: “We think that investors should recognize that revenue from Propel only represents 2.8% of NEWM’s total consolidated revenue and that growth from Propel will largely be offset by declines in NEWM’s traditional newspaper publishing operations.”

Guild members in sales note that Propel is a difficult sell to the mom-and-pop business in the smaller GateHouse Media markets. In the larger markets, Propel faces heavy competition.

All of that is food for investor thought.

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UMG members win Pulitzer Prize

Apr 20, 2015 by

FergusonThe United Media Guild congratulates its members whose work earned the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The staff photographers covered the social unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last August. The photo staff consists of chief photographer J.B. Forbes, photographers David Carson, Robert Cohen, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Christian Gooden, Chris Lee, Huy Mach and Laurie Skrivan; and director of photography Lynden Steele; photo editor Hilary Levin; and Gary Hairlson, director of video.

“I am extremely proud of our photo staff for their coverage of the protests in Ferguson, and I am happy they have received this recognition,” Steele told the Post-Dispatch.

“From August through November, the photographers displayed an amazing commitment to covering this story. They were tireless, brave, and dogged in their reporting. At the height of the protests, eight staff photographers covered Ferguson from 6:30 a.m. until about 3 a.m. They built relationships in the community, followed leads and made great, story-telling pictures.

“The photographs capture the anger, conflict and tragedy of the events that have ripped the bandaid off of the race conversation in St. Louis, and started new conversations about policing, local government and municipal courts.”

Carson, who also serves as this Local’s vice-president, said of the award,  “It’s sad that all this stemmed from someone losing their life but our photographers did a fantastic job of making it all real for our community.  At a time when slashing photo staffs is in vogue, this demonstrates the value of professional photojournalists on a newsroom staff.”

Carson expressed his gratitude and admiration for not only his photography colleagues but for the newsroom as a whole.  “You couldn’t ask more from such hardworking professionals.  The way they responded was everything you would hope for in coverage of such a major news event.”

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Freeport and Rockford select stewards

Apr 20, 2015 by

On Sunday, April 19, members of the Rockford Register Star/ Freeport Journal Standard unit held a meeting to nominate and elect stewards.  Turnout was good, nominations were plenty and when the dust finally settled and the votes tallied, the results were as follows:

At the Rockford Register Star:

Max Gersh (steward by virtue of the unit chair position)

Brian Leaf (steward due to vice chair position)

Paula Buckner

Matt Trowbridge

At the Freeport Journal Standard:

Karen Patterson

The Guild thanks everyone who expressed interest in helping and, to those who were elected – congratulations!

Stewards are your pipeline to Guild support!  They are available if you are in need of assistance in any situation that involves your wages, your benefits or your working conditions.  They are the eyes and ears of the Guild in your workplace.

Those elected will receive training to provide them with the tools they need to perform their new roles.


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No buyouts planned for Post-Dispatch newsroom

Apr 2, 2015 by

A recent Post-Dispatch layoff included three Guild members in advertising-related jobs. This layoff did not extend to the newsroom, but the Guild had informal discussions with the company about potential severance buyouts for veteran journalists.

If fact, the company encouraged journalists interested in leaving to contact management within a two-week period. Several of our members expressed interest.

But then the company told our members that no buyouts would be offered. Post-Dispatch publisher Ray Farris issued this statement to employees Thursday:

“Addressing any uncertainty, we currently have no plans for newsroom staff reductions or buyout offers. I appreciate your continuous hard work and dedication to our print and digital products.”

Guild business representative Shannon Duffy, Post-Dispatch unit chair Joe Holleman, UMG president Jeff Gordon and UMG vice president David Carson met with company officials after that surprising announcement.

We encouraged the company to reconsider its position on voluntary buyouts for Guild members, particularly with bargaining for a new collective bargaining agreement set to begin in a few months.

We believe our long-time journalists have earned the buyout consideration through decades of service. We also believe the Post-Dispatch would benefit by gaining long-range cost reduction and staffing flexibility.

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Save the SJ-R campaign gathering momentum

Mar 21, 2015 by

Our public campaign for a fair contract at the State Journal-Register in Springfield is gathering steam.

Anybody interested in support our fight to protect great journalism that important newspaper can visit our Save the SJ-R blog.

You can follow the fight on Twitter @savethesjr and like our campaign on Facebook.

Here is the first radio ad the United Media Guild started to run in Springfield. This ad will continue to run in that market and another ad is on the way.

Here is a Springfield television report on our public campaign:

The New York-based owner of the highly profitable SJ-R, the New York-based New Media Investment Group/GateHouse Media, has slashed the news-gathering operation in Springfield to a fraction of its former size. It has enforced a general wage freeze for more than seven years and hired new reporters at barely liveable wages.

Jim Romenesko has also chronicled the plight of our Springfield unit chair, Dean Olsen, on his influential media blog.

Romenesko also updated his readers in media circles on Olsen’s plight and our public campaign against GateHouse.

The Illinois Times was one of the media outlets covering our earlier public demonstration in Springfield. Here was that report.

Recently the Boston Globe profiled the success of GateHouse Media/New Media Investment Group but noted the downside of cost-cutting for newspapers like the State Journal-Register.

The money quote came from a decorated reporter who left another GateHouse newspaper after being denied a modest raise: “GateHouse is to journalism like what Olive Garden is to Italian food.”

Romenesko told the story of that reporter.

He also covered the carnage at Halifax newspapers purchased by New Media Investment Group and placed under GateHouse management.

Our colleagues at the Providence Journal suffered quite a bloodletting at the hands of GateHouse management after New Media bought that newspaper last year.

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Post-Dispatch Unit begins formulating negotiating demands

Mar 18, 2015 by

Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the Post-Dispatch, has emerged from bankruptcy and successfully refinanced its debt into more favorable terms. It continues to pay down the debt with positive cash flow and reward its top executives with hefty bonuses.

With our current collective bargaining agreement for the P-D unit set to expire Sept. 27, the United Media Guild will focus on economics in the coming negotiations. Our members took pay cuts and endured unpaid furloughs in the previous contract.

We hoped to minimize layoffs as Lee navigated through its serious economic crisis. Despite gaining the concessions, the company continued reducing our workforce as revenues declined. Those remaining at the P-D have taken on more and more responsibility.

Our surviving journalists keep doing award-winning work despite losing significant earning power. Our surviving salespersons keep striving to meet challenging goals in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

So our top objective for the next contract will be to improve the pay scales for our hourly employees and to gain additional commission, bonus and territory/client list safeguards for our salespersons to stabilize their earnings.

We will survey our salespeople about particular concerns that must be addressed in bargaining. We will survey all of our members to see how they prioritize these potential negotiating points:

  • Maintaining our current cost share percentage for health insurance premiums.
  • Lowering the percentage cap to the year-to-year increases in our share of those premiums.
  • Improving maternity/paternity leave.
  • Increasing the company’s 401K contributions.
  • Thawing the frozen Pulitzer Pension Plan.
  • Increasing the member life insurance coverage.
  • Increasing the shift pay differential for working in a higher classification.
  • Increasing the shift pay differential for filling in for a supervisor.
  • Improving the cell phone reimbursement allowance and policy.
  • Improving mileage reimbursement.
  • Improving the car allowance for those eligible.
  • Improving the company’s vacation-scheduling system to make it more equitable.
  • Improving vacation call-back protections.
  • Reducing the 12-month limit on employees being forced to work outside of their classification.
  • Limiting the number of shifts reporters must work on the copy desk.
  • Gaining additional holidays, personal days and vacation time.
  • Gaining additional sick days for newer employees.
  • Improving severance for newer employees who are laid off.
  • Extending lay-off call-back requirements from 18 months to 24 months.

Soon our stewards will distribute negotiating surveys to our members. Our bargaining committee will consider the results of the survey while setting our negotiating priorities.

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Members sought for Post-Dispatch bargaining committee

Mar 10, 2015 by

The United Media Guild would like to get a head start on negotiations for a new contract for our Post-Dispatch unit and Lee Enterprises.

So we are seeking volunteers to serve on our bargaining committee. Here is how the process will work:

  • The bargaining committee will oversee general unit meetings to hear the concerns of our membership and set the general priorities for bargaining.
  • Business representative Shannon Duffy will serve as our lead negotiator in bargaining, which we hope to begin this summer.
  • Duffy will craft our opening proposal with guidance from the negotiating committee, our lawyers and members of The News Guild’s national staff.
  • Post-Dispatch unit chair Joe Holleman will chair the negotiating committee and serve as the point person for the group at the table.
  • Business representative Mary Casey, UMG president Jeff Gordon and UMG vice president David Carson will be involved in negotiations as well.
  • Any other member of the bargaining committee can participate directly the negotiations, but not every committee member will not be involved in all the sessions. We usually rotate committee members in and out, depending on circumstances. From time to time we may bring in other unit members and put them on the committee to address a particular issue.
  • The bargaining committee will meet regularly to discuss the progress of negotiations and formulate general strategy.
  • The bargaining committee will vote on whether to tentatively agree to a contact proposal and bring it to the entire unit for a vote — or reject the proposal without bringing it to our members.

Interested members should contact Shannon or Mary at the UMG office at 314-241-7046.



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