Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What I Learned in San Francisco

Hey Guys,

I've been meaning to update y'all on what I gathered from our fellow journalists at the recent Western District Council of the Newspaper Guild meeting at San Francisco and apologize for the delay. It feels like I've been 9,000 places at once lately, so I'm stealing a bit of free time tonight to get this out there and share the good and bad news from up and down the coast.

Overall, it was a very worthwhile experience, getting to meet with our counterparts from other union papers and hear their tales of triumph and woe. While it sounds like it's a tough time for everyone in the business right now, it heartened me to see that there's a bunch sharp people carrying the flag in journalism and the union-- our efforts are not alone here. There's a bunch of people just like us who are reacting to the changes in the industry with creative ideas and passion for the craft, which was very refreshing to see.

The biggest two issues to come up were the Guild's efforts to help workers at the Knight Ridder papers being spun off by McClatchy become employee-owners and the changes technology has brought into the workplace.

For the former, we listened to a presentation by some staff at the San Jose Mercury News and San Jose Newspaper Guild who devised the plan to partner with a wealthy investor to buy the paper from its new owners. This has attracted major financial backing from former supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and spread onto 11 other papers affected by the proposed sale. I had my reservations at first about its feasibility, but after listening to their plan, I've got to say I'm pretty impressed by how well they've thought things through.

One of the leaders of the plan is a guy by the name of Luther Jackson, who holds an administrative position in their local similar to what Vicki does for us. He's an extremely, extremely sharp guy who's been around the labor movement and newspaper business for quite some time and he really knows his stuff. I won't get into all the details here, but their concept aims to shield the papers from the bottom line mentality that has caused so many problems in this industry over the years. Burkle's company, Yucaipa, would bid up to $2.2 billion for the papers, then enter into partnership with employees who'd roll over their 401(k)s to become employee owners. They'd then hire management companies to run the papers and keep them running healthily.

It's a risky move, but they seem to have considered the options well and are doing some pretty progressive thinking. It'll be a tough process, especially since our own employer MediaNews Group also has its eyes on the properties, but I'm glad to see that they're willing to do things in a nontraditional manner in an attempt to preserve good quality journalism.

For more info about the plan, check out the following links:

As far as the technology issue, we had a really productive, eye-opening session conducted by Bernie Lunzer, secretary/treasurer for the Guild. I was worried that it would just be a bunch of people complaining that they didn't want to do Internet work or produce multi-media, but it clearly was not. Blogging, audio recording, digital video, crossover onto radio and TV, breaking news updates for the Web-- these are all here to stay in this business. We learned the various different things the newsrooms have to deal with, how they've incorporated it into their workload and what we're all going to have to do in the future.

In the past, unions haven't had a great reputation for accepting new technology, which is why a lot of union folks got laid off and membership dwindled. This wasn't like that-- not only did the people participating find ways to incorporate the added work into their newsrooms, they did it so everyone was treated fairly. We even pushed it beyond that, developing plans to network with one another to push even more technological innovation within the industry and discussing ways the union could help its members learn more.

This is great news on many levels, folks-- it reminds me that the union we belong to is nothing like the stereotype many people have of organized labor. It's forward-thinking, innovative and, most importantly, it cares about the quality of the industry and the product we produce just as much as it does about traditional labor issues. I felt proud to be in a business with people who had their eyes on the road ahead, rather than ones stuck in the past-- the focus of the conference was clearly pushing good journalism, not complaints about the way things used to be. As we labor here to make the Daily News better, there's plenty of people at other union papers trying to do the exact same thing.

While I know this is getting long, I suppose this isn't a bad time to reiterate what I've told people whenever it's come up at the paper: the more new media work we can do, the better. If we can evolve our positions as newsgatherers to include things like online design, multiimedia presentations and breaking news delivery, we'll all be better off in the future. Take the work you can get (so long as it's fair and not overly burdensome, of course) and we'll figure out how to address compensation in future contracts.

CORRECTION: (Wed, 10:41 p.m.)... I'm updating this late after a clarification from the folks at Eugene. It appears I may have misunderstood a disciplinary situation there involving a dispute over supposed mandatory cheerfulness. I think the post was largely correct, but in the interest of preventing further confusion, I'll just take the whole thing off and apologize for any mistakes or subsequent disagreements they may have caused...

Alright, that's it for now. Thanks a lot for taking so much time to read this-- I know it's lengthy, but I think it's important stuff for us all to consider, given the rapidly changing world we're working in. So thanks for your support and your time-- it doesn't go unnoticed here or elsewhere in the business. We got a lot of compliments for our successes at the Daily News at the conference, so what you guys do every day really makes a difference both here and elsewhere in the industry.



Anonymous Amy Alkon said...

"First, management initially wanted to amend its drug policy so employees had to submit a list of every prescription drug that they take and bring them only in the original containers if they needed to take them at work (wouldn't want anyone to be getting high on birth control pills or Rogaine, apparently)."

They seem confused as to whether they're running a newspaper or an elementary school.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Oxnard St. said...

NOTE: This refers to an undisputed part of the situation at the Register Guard, but rather than parse the entire thing for what was correct and what I mischaracterized, I just pulled the whole thing. Once again, my apolgies for the confusion.

11:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home