Wanted: Full time copy editor

May 19, 2016 by

                                                              Full-Time Copy Editor

Truthout is looking for a full-time copy editor to edit articles and other content in our fast-paced virtual setting. This editor will also assist in determining style guidelines, writing headlines and article summaries, and preparing material for publication on our website. The ideal candidate is hard-working, detail-oriented, deadline-driven, politically savvy and kind.

Truthout offers a competitive salary, benefits, and a friendly and open work environment. Applicants should have at least two years of experience copy-editing for a journalistic publication. Please send resume and cover letter to jobs@truthout.org, as well as one writing sample. People of color, women, and queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people are encouraged to apply.

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More doubts raised about New Media/GateHouse stock

May 3, 2016 by

After GateHouse Media was reborn as part of the larger New Media Investment Group, analysts were bullish on the stock’s potential.

The company has plowed forth on a buying spree, becoming one of the few big players left in the newspaper industry. On his 2015 fourth quarter earnings call with analysts, New Media CEO Michael Reed said the company could spend up another $360 million on acquisitions in 2016. The purchases keep coming.

Even after giving a glowing 2016 first quarter earning report and paying another healthy dividend, though, New Media stock dipped back below to $16 per share in early May — well below its 52-week high of $24.32 and about one-third of the long-term price some analysts initially predicted the stock should reach.

In a note to investors, Citigroup Inc. downgraded New Media stock from “buy” rating to neutral and lowered its target price for the stock to $17.

What’s with the stock? In an earlier piece for Poynter.org, Rick Edmonds observed:

Some commentators have doubted whether New Media’s strategy will work as well at bigger papers it bought in Columbus and Providence as it has with earlier additions of smaller papers.

In the conference call with analysts, Reed argued that the market undervalues New Media. The newspaper sector, he said, is “out-of-favor and fragmented,” and that leads to New Media being “misunderstood.”

But is it really misunderstood? Or is the market wary of a newspaper company that buys and plunders properties, seeking maximum quarter-to-quarter cash flow while risking accelerated erosion of readership and advertising revenues? At some point, doesn’t the company have to grow the bottom line?

New Media puffed up its fourth quarter numbers with a $54 million cash infusion from flipping the Las Vegas Review-Journal to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who bought the newspaper to pursue a personal agenda.

That was a nice windfall for the company, but raised serious questions about its commitment to credible journalism. First New Media/GateHouse tried to get reporters at the Review-Journal to do Adelson’s bidding by investigating Las Vegas judges. Then company executive David Arkin tried to get journalists at its Sarasota newspaper to investigate the judges.

New Media/GateHouse has since scaled back its management agreement in Las Vegas and backed away from the mess, but not before its egregious ethical lapses drew extensive national coverage in both the industry and the mainstream media. The controversy triggered rumblings of an unhealthy rift between Reed and Kirk Davis, the New Media COO and GateHouse CEO.

It’s no wonder the company felt compelled to assemble its editors for an April meeting in Chicago.

Reed touted Sarasota’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work in his 2016 first quarter earnings call with analysts, but he made no mention of the company’s controversial attempt to deploy those same reporters to do Adelson’s bidding.

Oh, and Davis had to move quickly to squelch ethical concerns about the company’s bid for a marketing deal with the city of Quincy, Massachusetts — home of GateHouse’s Patriot Ledger newspaper.

Of course, New Media/GateHouse management is creating even greater concerns of interest to investors. Let’s run down the list:

Core product deterioration. New Media/GateHouse has cut newsroom operations to a fraction of their former size. Even after emerging from bankruptcy flush with cash, it continued running off veteran reporters, photographers and

Providence Journal protest in face the of GateHouse cuts.

Providence Journal protest in face the of GateHouse cuts.

editors and hiring entry level replacements — often at less than a living wage. The company even churns publishers at key properties like the State Journal-Register in Springfield. The constant cutting and churning keeps diminishing the “strong and trusted local brands” the company touts to investors. Outsourcing copy editing functions to its Austin design center has further diminished content quality, since ever-changing workforce there is far removed from the communities New Media/GateHouse newspapers serve. In many cases editors have little knowledge of the people, places and issues in the stories they process. As a result, more obvious errors end up in print.

Print advertising vulnerability. New Media/GateHouse is not the only newspaper company fretting about the future of print advertising (22.1 percent of New Media revenue in 2015) and “preprint” advertising (nearly 14 percent). The company reported double-digit declines in both categories in its fourth quarter statement, which was typical in the industry. But the company’s increasing desperation to slow the decline has led to heavy management and salesperson churn. The implementation of new non-compete clauses has prompted experienced salespersons with strong advertiser relationships to leave the company rather than limit their future employment opportunities.

Classified advertising vulnerability. The company has stemmed decline in this area by inflating the cost of obituaries to families through multiple means, including blowing up the font size of the obits. This is still another short-term fix with potential long-term ramifications.

Digital advertising/Propel “growth levers.” While the company is making some digital strides, many of the New Media/GateHouse markets are too small to value Propel and the company’s bigger markets feature heavy competition from similar products. Propel remains an insignificant revenue source (2.6 percent) for the company. Desperate to grow digital advertising and Propel, the company’s ever-changing management team devises aggressive sales plans that often overreach — causing long-standing local print advertisers to spend nothing instead of more.

Circulation revenue vulnerability. Circulation produced 31.6 percent of the New Media revenue. Its percentage of total company revenue keeps growing. While circulation is plummeting at many properties, the company offset that decline by raising subscription and newsstand prices and making subscribers pay extra for “premium sections” that are essentially advertorial fluff. That, in turn, causes potential for further readership erosion. How long can New Media prop up this category?

Union-directed subscriber and advertiser boycotts.  Even while spiraling into bankruptcy in its earlier incarnation, GateHouse Media maintained reasonable relationships with its unions. After its rebirth as the cash-flush New Media Investment Group, the company has established a more strident tone toward its employees, many of whom have endured wage freezes of eight or more years.  The company is steadfastly refusing to offer raises during negotiations with various unions. In New Media’s 2015 Annual Report, the company notes that it has 35 collective bargaining agreements with unions at various properties.  Most of its unionized employees work under CBAs that expire in 2017. “We believe that relations with our employees are generally good and we have had no work

Not-so-happy employees in Springfield.

Not-so-happy employees in Springfield.

stoppages at any of our publications,” the Annual Report noted. On the first point, morale is actually terrible and turnover is high at many company properties, due to eternal wage freezes for long-time employees, low pay for new employees, reduced staffing and various administrative snafus related to the company’s rapid expansion.

As for the absence of worker strikes, unions prefer to establish an economic value for labor peace through public pressure and orchestrated boycotts. Convincing local businesses not to advertise in a newspaper is not difficult, since many have been moving away from print anyway. Convincing readers to quit subscribing isn’t hard, either, giving the soaring subscription and newsstand prices and the glaring content reduction. What is hard is regaining advertisers and readers after they leave. At the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., for instance, the loss of just one key advertiser would cost the company far more money than settling with United Media Guild on a fair contract for its members. UMG business representative Shannon Duffy has spoken to many of the paper’s top advertisers, some on multiple occasions. Springfield is well aware of the UMG’s years-long fight for a first contract, thanks to a radio commercial blitz, outreach to community and labor leaders, public demonstrations and direct meetings with some of the SJ-R’s biggest advertisers. This has become a model programs for other newspapers to follow. Public campaigns in markets like Providence, Rockford and Erie could provide more examples of how New Media/GateHouse risks serious long-term damage while trying to vacuum every last nickle and dime from its properties on a quarter-to-quarter basis. Oddly, such potential economic damage was not on the laundry list of “Risk Factors” disclosed to investors in the 2015 Annual Report.

Union-directed corporate campaign. John Levin, chairman and chief executive of Levin Capital Strategies L.P., has provided a blueprint for future shareholder motions at New Media. He called for more independent directors for the companies spun out of Newcastle Investment Corp. to reduce the obvious conflicts of interest. The external management structure of these spin-offs reward the money guys backing the enterprise, Wes Edens and the Fortress Investment Group LLC, while putting shareholders in some peril. Reed is the CEO of New Media, but he is paid by Fortress. Levin notes that Fortress gets paid to build size, not to necessarily create better performance. As Levin noted about another Fortress property, New Senior Investment Group, perhaps a buyer will come along and save the company for the long haul. The same could occur for New Media. Shareholders should either hope that happens or properly time their exit before these executives crash the stock, as they did with GateHouse Media. Either way Fortress would come out fine, thanks to the hefty management fees it collects along the way.

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New publisher, same problem at SJ-R

May 2, 2016 by

springfield3The churn continues at the State Journal-Register. Salespersons come and go. So do reporters, frustrated by the eternal wage freeze invoked by GateHouse Media.

Notable departures include Jamie Munks, Maggie Menderski, Dan Petrella, Tobias Wall and Molly Beck.

And this company even blows through publishers. Once upon a time those positions were among the most stable in the media industry. As the Illinois Times notes, the SJ-R employed just two publishers between 1968 and 2005.

But those days are long gone. Rosanne Cheeseman became the sixth SJ-R publisher under GateHouse Media ownership, replacing Clarissa Williams.

Back in 2013 since-departed GateHouse executive Brad Dennison hired Williams to replace interim publisher Michael Petrak, who filled in after Richard Johnson retired after less than a year on the job.

Johnston signed on in 2012 to replace Walt Lafferty, who came aboard in 2010 to replace Scott Bowers. Whew!

Springfield civic leaders need a scorecard to keep up with all the changes atop the SJ-R, an important institution that has eroded due to excessive cutting under GateHouse ownership.

Cheeseman takes over as the United Media Guild moves closer to triggering advertiser and reader boycotts of the SJ-R. GateHouse Media’s last contract proposal to the UMG amounted to a pay cut for many of our members in Springfield.

Veteran journalists at the paper have gone nearly nine years without a raise. This prompted them to organize, vote in the Guild 26-4, and embark on an aggressive public campaign.

Our members have engaged the public in a variety of ways, including informational picketing, leafleting major events, speaking to civic groups, soliciting support from organized labor, manning an informational booth at the Illinois State Fair, gathering support cards and running a radio advertising campaign.

More recently UMG business representative Shannon Duffy met with several of the major SJ-R advertisers face to face, some of them on multiple occasions. AFSCME, which has 35,000 members in the region, has been assisting our efforts.

The UMG isn’t eager to inflict economic damage on the SJ-R — some of which could be permanent — but if GateHouse insists on maintaining its wage freeze, we will have no choice to prove that labor peace has major economic value.

Boycotts could cost GateHouse Media hundreds of thousands in the near term and perhaps millions in the long haul. Regaining lost readers and advertisers can be expensive and, in some cases, impossible.

And odds are we’ll see more churn, more salespersons, reporters and, yes, even publishers heading out the door.

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Labor Tribune ratifies new contract

Apr 29, 2016 by

labortribThe United Media Guild finalized its new collective bargaining agreement with the Labor Tribune, adding to its list of settlements in recent months.

The contract featured 3 percent raises this year and next year for the Labor Tribune’s one full-time editorial employee and $750 signing bonuses for all members.

The contract allows the Labor Tribune to freeze pension benefits for its employees. In exchange, the company will contribute the money that would have gone to the pension into employee 401K plans instead.

Initially that regular 401K contribution will be $51.21 per week for each employee. It will increase 3 percent each year going forward.

Here are some highlights of the other deals:

At the Mid-South Organizing Committee, the new contract codified work rules, spelled out job duties, created a phone policy — employees get reimbursement if they don’t use a committee-issued phone — and enhanced grievance and arbitration language.

The contract also calls for step increases over a two-year span for these fast food organizers, from $32,000 to $40,000. In addition, there is a $150 monthly stipend for Organizer 2s, a $250 monthly stipend for leads-in-training and communication specialists and $350 stipend for leads.

At Truthout, the big battle at this progressive digital program was over disciplinary protections, of all things. We were able to maintain key protections and gain staff raises if certain financial benchmarks are reached.

It also created a mechanism for employees to suggest fundraising improvements at the financially strapped operation.

Last year our members at Missouri Jobs with Justice agreed to a new deal that featured immediate pay increases of up to $4,000, then a 3 percent raise in 2016 and a 2 percent bump in 2017.

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Not since David slew Goliath . . .

Apr 5, 2016 by

umglogoOn January 28, Rockford Register Star Copy Editor Paula Buckner was discharged for “rude and disrespectful” comments to coworkers.  Buckner, who worked at the paper for 22 years, had the temerity to comment on how the newly formatted obits looked (she said they looked “like shit”) and question their oversized appearance.

**NOTE:  The Register Star recently went with a larger font on its obits and now squares them off as well.  Employees and readers alike don’t approve of the change and remark that it makes their paper look “really small town.”  This change gouges families by forcing them to buy bigger (and therefore more expensive) obits.

A management executroid was on hand during the exchange and informed Buckner the change to the size of obits was so older readers could see them easier.  Her reply (which I love, btw) was, “We had old people 20 years ago and we just now figured out that they have difficulty reading 8 or 9 point type?”

Days later, the paper called in Buckner and gave her a letter which cited other instances of her speaking out and terminated her.  The Guild, in turn, claimed that Buckner was a conscientious employee and pointed out that her colorful remarks were always about the quality – or lack thereof – of the work product and filed a grievance demanding her reinstatement.  The parties are now headed to arbitration.

**NOTE:  Even though we have not yet completed negotiating a contract at the Register Star, we are able to file and arbitrate grievances as a result of a mutual agreement signed and made enforceable on 2-24-15. 

In the past, when a bargaining unit member would depart, their unemployment insurance was always contested by the paper (but after a cursory review, the departed employee would still receive it).  I’d remarked on more than one occasion just how pernicious I’d thought their position was, only to be told that it was something they (the Register Star) were required to do by their insurance company and assured that, if anyone didn’t qualify and then appealed, the paper would never object or voice opposition (thus ensuring that the employee would qualify to receive their unemployment).

After Buckner was terminated, she filed for unemployment insurance.  As usual, the paper contested her unemployment but, this time, her case was rejected.  She then filed an appeal and it was at this point that we all got to see just how truthful Register Star management is in matters of employee relations.

The appeal hearing was conducted over the phone as a conference call.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was in Chicago, Buckner was home and also on the call were: Register Star Executive Editor Mark Baldwin (seriously), Managing Editor Ann Durocher (I kid you not), HR Director Mona Kidd, the executroid who was present at the verbal exchange and a freakin’ corporate attorney from GateHouse (for those of you keeping score at home – that makes it five to one)!

Several of the Register Star representatives spoke and Paula replied to each, giving her version of events.  It was very matter of fact and the ALJ said that he would render a decision soon and that everyone should expect to hear from him in about a week.

One week later a letter arrived.

From the letter:

Conclusion:  820ILCS 405/602A provides that the term “misconduct” means the deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable rule or policy of the employing unit, governing the individual’s behavior in performance of his work, provided such violation has harmed the employing unit or other employees or has been repeated by the individual despite a warning or other explicit instruction fro the employing unit.

The Claimant made in error in judgement.  She did not set out to harm her Employer.  She did not realize that her actions could result in her discharge.  She had not been warned about this specific issue.  She did not raise her voice.  It was an isolated incident of little severity.

There was no competent evidence which could establish that the Claimant willfully and deliberately violated any company rule or policy of the Employer or that the Claimant’s actions caused harm to the Employer.  The Employer has failed to establish that the Claimant deliberately set out to violate the Employer’s reasonable rules or policies.

Based upon the preponderance of evidence presented at the hearing, and considering THE CREDIBILITY OF THE WITNESSES WHO TESTIFIED (emphasis is mine), it was concluded that the Employer failed to establish that the Claimant was discharged for Misconduct connected with work within the meaning and intent of Section 602A of the Act.

WHILE THE EMPLOYER MAY HAVE HAD ECONOMIC OR PERSONAL REASONS FOR THE CLAIMANT’S DISCHARGE (again, emphasis is mine), these reasons fail to constitute Misconduct as defined by the Act.

Decision: The Local Office determination is SET ASIDE.  Pursuant to 820 ILCS 405/602A, the Claimant is eligible for benefits, as to this issue only, from 1/31/2016″

A complete victory for the good guys!

Next item on the agenda is Paula’s arbitration hearing, where her union will argue for reinstatement and full back pay.  We are currently in the process of selecting an arbitrator.  Stay tuned.

 

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Press Club to hold “Trump Effect” panel discussion

Apr 5, 2016 by

United Media Guild member Aisha Sultan, a columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will moderate a Press Club panel discussion on “The Trump Effect” at noon, April 28 at the Pasta House in University City, at 8213 Delmar.

Joining her on the panel are fellow UMG member Kevin McDermott, a Post-Dispatch reporter; UMG retiree Jo Mannies, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio; and Jason Rosenbaum, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

How has the GOP frontrunner changed politics, the media and the electorate? Will the angry voters decide this election? How has the frontrunner’s popularity impacted local and state elections this year? The panel will discuss these questions and others created by the Trump phenomenon.

Tickets are $14 for Press Club members and $17 for non-members and guests. RSVP by April 27 at 314-449-8029 or at info@stlpressclub.org.

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Regarding the SJ-R vote:

Jan 30, 2016 by

Three ballots were distributed at last night’s contract ratification vote in Springfield, IL.  Two dealt with how parts of the contract – should it be ratified – would unfold.  The first set of options was to determine how the bargaining unit wanted to ‘catch up’ with the premium rates the other (non-union) SJ-R employees are paying (because, during bargaining, our people have not had their premiums increased) and our members voted unanimously for the less expensive ramp up.

The second ballot was to determine if our members wanted to receive a $600 bonus upon signing the contract and then another $600 next year and the following year.  Or they could vote to have a union shop and dues check off.  The message from GateHouse was clear and unmistakable:  We’ll give you $1800 to have an open shop and a weak union.  And again, UMG members voted as a bloc  – and REJECTED the attempted bribe.

Finally, the third ballot was to accept or reject the contract – with whatever options the membership had chosen.  And once more, the vote was unanimous (ed note:  The vote was conducted by secret ballot with election tellers who were not part of the bargaining team).

We are scheduled to sit down with GateHouse again in Springfield at 10:00 a.m. on February 11.

 

 

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lifted from the Illinois Times. . .

Jan 30, 2016 by

Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 09:28 pm

Shove it

SJ-R newsroom rejects contract

Newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register tonight rejected a final contract offer from GateHouse Media, the company that owns Springfield’s daily newspaper.

The vote was unanimous, according to Shannon Duffy, administrative officer for the United Media Guild, which represents newsroom workers. There are approximately 25 workers in the bargaining unit.

Reporters and other newsroom employees have gone without raises since GateHouse purchased the paper eight years ago, and pay increases had been a sticking point in contract negotiations between the company and the union. Employees voted to form a union in 2012.

Management offered $600 annual bonuses for the life of a three-year deal, Duffy said, but that was contingent on an open shop, meaning that employees would not be compelled to join the union or pay union dues. Management and the union had tentatively agreed to a number of working conditions, including rules governing transfers and promotions, leaves of absence, holidays and rules governing discharge and discipline, according to the union.

Clarissa Williams, SJ-R publisher, declined comment.

Union leadership had recommended that the bargaining unit reject management’s latest proposal, which Duffy said was a “last, best and final offer.”

“It (the offer) would not create a better workplace,” union leaders wrote in a Jan. 27 memo to union members. “It would simply codify the one you are trying to change. GateHouse has been buying up properties like it is the Golden Arches of journalism. That doesn’t mean newsroom staffers should be tied to a McDonald’s pay scale.”

The McDonald’s comparison was an obvious reference to the plight of Dean Olsen, an SJ-R reporter and union organizer who took a job at the fast-food chain to make ends meet. Olsen’s moonlighting at McDonald’s, first reported by Illinois Times, received national attention on websites and blogs devoted to journalism.

“How crazy is it that just as the $15 an hour minimum wage movement is building steam for fast food workers, GateHouse insists on a minimum rate of $13 an hour for fulltime journalists and $11 for part-timers?” union leadership wrote in the memo. “Will there be fries with that?”

Union leaders in the memo said that GateHouse was too quick to present a final offer.

“(F)or some reason, this company seems to have given up trying to work out differences on the remaining issues,” union leadership wrote. “Instead, it presented – in our view very prematurely – a final offer, insisting that it get its way on all unresolved issues.”

Although the offer presented by management was a final one, Duffy said that another negotiating session is scheduled for Feb. 11. Presuming no accord is reached, management could declare an impasse and install all or part of the conditions in the final contract offer, Duffy and Olsen said. The union could appeal a declaration of impasse to the National Labor Relations Board, asking for a ruling that no impasse exists, they said. If the NLRB rules that there is no impasse exists, negotiations would continue, they said.

“The ball truly is in their court right now,” Duffy said. “We remain committed to getting a contract.”

If an impasse is declared and the company installs provisions in its final offer that have been rejected by employees, options for the union range from going out on strike to organizing a boycott of subscribers or advertisers or both, Duffy said.

“It gets really interesting from this point forward,” he said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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