Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Big Changes at the Daily News

Hey Gang,

You've probably all heard the news today, one way or another, but after weeks of speculation about layoffs and reorganization, we finally got some concrete facts. Overall, there were 21 jobs lost, though I've seen conflicting reports about whether they were LANG-wide or just at the Daily News. In the newsroom, we lost three employee positions and one manager. Executive-wise, we also lost our publisher, finance, circulation and human resources directors.

I asked both John McKeon, our new publisher, and Ron Kaye whether there would be more cuts to come. Both said that while they couldn't definitively say that there would never be additional job loss, they expected this to be the last of the cuts. Ron, in particular, seemed upset about having to let the people go, and McKeon seemed to share in his remorse. He said that a strong Daily News, as the flagship paper in the chain, was key to LANG's success and that he hoped to see it grow in the future.

Especially for the folks who lost their jobs, this has clearly been an awful day. I spoke with each of the newsroom employees and while they all handled it with grace and good attitudes, when you remember that these are real people, with real lives, it reminds you how terrible this is. They aren't numbers on a payroll sheet, they're our friends and coworkers, the ones who put in long hours with us to put out the paper under stressful conditions. They will be sorely missed.

And for anyone who didn't see the UNISYS message, I want to thank Kimberly Armendariz, who selflessly came forward and volunteered to give up her job. She stepped up and put herself on the line, which saved another position that would have probably been eliminated. I don't know where it would have come from, but by doing so, she kept one of us in a job. While I'm really sad to see her go, it made me feel good to see such a generous, thoughtful act, especially during such tough times.

With that in mind, I'm asking for all of your help-- we've all got to stick together and help our departed colleagues find new work now. Given the state of the industry at the moment, that'll be a challenge, but if anyone knows of open reporter, designer or copy editor positions, particularly in sports, anywhere, please let me know as soon as possible. The company is trying to do right by them and they're all smart, capable individuals, but any leads anyone has would be greatly appreciated. Ask your friends at other papers and elsewhere in the industry and we'll do our best to make sure they get back on their feet quickly.

Whether we shared an office, a department or just a common goal with them, these people deserve everything we can offer them. If we were in their place, they'd do the same for us, so we've got to pitch in now to help them. Now, more than ever, we've got to look out for one another.

And for those of us left, we've got to pull together, as well. As Ron said in the newsroom meeting, we have got to figure out a way to connect with readers and how to make the paper the best that we possibly can. We've got to come up with new ideas and when we see ways the place better, we've got to take him up on his request for suggestions. This is a staff of tremendously creative, intelligent people and we've got a chance here to fight our way to success.

It's tough to see an upside to a day like this, but if there's any positive news, it's the idea that we can help remake the paper into something we can all take even more pride in. Ron singled out Greg Hernandez in the meeting as an example of someone who's done something unique and powerful with his Out in Hollywood blog, and we can all learn from Greg. He created that blog on his own, he wasn't directed to do so from above, and he's done a masterful job of building it, promoting it and keeping it fresh. We can't just sit on our hands and regret that the business ain't what it used to be, nor can we curse our lack of resources or the historical dysfunction at the Daily News. We can just take Ron up on his offer and build that change on our own terms.

So that's all I've got for this evening-- thank you for listening and thanks for your help. Please keep an eye out for ways we can help the people who lost their jobs. The worst should be over now, so let's find a way to rebuild and move on so we don't end up here again.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Night rap-up

Hey Gang,

Just wanted to keep you guys posted on the latest news on the union front, which is to say: not much. But, given everything that's going on, that's a good thing.

Still no word on what form the proposed layoffs will take, but the latest I've heard (as of Friday) is that as time has stretched on, the picture has improved and that the number continues to shrink. While I still don't have a hard number or particulars, I was told that things weren't as bad as first feared and that cuts would be considered both out of management and the rest of us. I'm not happy to hear of anyone losing their job, but it makes me feel a little bit better to know that the cuts are being deliberated over, rather than just handed out on a snap basis.

Some of you guys may have seen the posting on Friday from our now-sister paper, the San Jose Mercury News, where the company is threatening 40 layoffs in the newsroom. LAObserved posted a warning to LANG employees in connection with this, and while I normally put a fair amount of confidence in his writing, I disagree in this case. I'm sure the Merc's in for some pain, but I think that their situation is completely separate from ours. It's probably not a coincidence that they're also in negotiations where the company is asking for significant takeaways from their long-standing contract. Whatever the case, while it's a good idea to keep an eye on them, I wouldn't worry unnecessarily about their situation.

In a related note, Kerry, Jason and I went down to the Western District Council meeting of Newspaper Guild locals in Long Beach this weekend. We met with our counterparts and other union activists, along with Guild president Linda Foley, to discuss the state of the industry all up and down the coast. Everyone's in the same boat, facing a changing business and tightfisted owners.

These are always useful gatherings and I came away with some good leads for added collaboration with the other folks at the Merc, Press-Telegram and other California papers. We had a lot of good discussion on the changing technological workplace and how to participate in it. The general consensus was to take on as much of the new work, be it podcasting, video, audio recording or blogging, as possible. By embracing the new technologies, we can prepare union workers to be industry leaders and innovators, rather than the guys who still clung to their typewriters and Speedgraphics. We even got some good ideas to bring back to our respective papers on how they can grow, so hopefully it'll be good for all involved.

And, as one final note, I wanted to share two different pieces of good news from the sports department. First off, please join me in welcoming Chris Wiley of the sports copy desk as our newest member. He's yet another of the unsung crew that makes the always lively section run day in and day out. Even before he joined Chris has been very helpful in the past in keeping an eye out for his fellow colleagues, so we'll be well served to have his support. Thanks, sir, we'll look forward to working with you.

And secondly, I'm glad to share the news of our old friend Richard Perkins, formerly of sports, has landed a job as a lead designer for the Riverside Press-Enterprise. In addition to being a passionate, devoted guy in his job, Rich was a great backer for this union and did a lot for our cause. I'll miss working with him, but am glad to see him off to better things. Best of luck out there, pal, keep up that fire burning...

Ok, my friends, that'll do it for one night. I'll be in touch soon.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

If You're Interested...

Hey Gang,

Wish I had some news to slip you on the various goings-on at the paper, but haven't heard anything more beyond what I posted last time. In the meantime, I wanted to pass the word on something completely unrelated to the union, but still worthy.

In my increasingly rare spare time, I'm also an associate board member for SPJ's LA chapter and next week, we'll be hosting a forum on business reporting over in Van Nuys. My apologies if you've already gotten the original SPJ e-mail, but we've received a grand total of two RSVPs to date and I'm really hoping the panelists won't out-number the guests. So if any of you guys are interested, please let me know-- it's cheap, it's local and it should be an informative night. What more could a journalist ask for, huh?

And speaking of which, not to torpedo my own attendance, Rachel Uranga's organized a panel with CCNMA on Black-Latino relations to be held the same evening in Northridge. I don't have the full details with me, but talk to her if you'd like to know more.

Hope to see you at one or the other,

Contact Brent Hopkins


Curious how to make business reporting interesting? Why housing prices
and unemployment affect you and your readers, listeners and viewers?
What EBITDA means and why anyone would care?

Come satisfy that curiosity at a business reporting forum sponsored by
the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional
Journalists on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Panelists -including Frank Mottek of KNX-1070 radio; Mark Lacter, former
editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal and current editor of LABiz
Observed - will discuss how to break into business reporting and how to
make it relevant and interesting to your audience.

What: SPJ-LA Business Reporting Forum

When: Tuesday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.

Where: Valley Economic Development Center Community Room, 5121 Van Nuys
Blvd., 3rd floor, Van Nuys, CA


Cost: $8 for members, $10 for non-members Dinner and refreshments will
be provided with admission.

Please RSVP by Sunday, Oct. 22 to Brent Hopkins at afropic@hotmail.com

Look for details on SPJ-LA's Web site, http://www.spj.org/losangeles.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Daily News Update

Hey guys,

Just wanted to check in and let you know the little bit I've heard since Friday's message. Ron and Melissa met with the LANG execs and the other papers' editors today and made their case for preserving jobs and working more efficiently. From my conversations with both afterward, it seemed like the meetings were productive but it's still likely that we'll lose a few jobs. It hasn't been decided how many, where or when, but Ron said that it would be far fewer than predicted last Friday. Apparently, the new plan will now go up the corporate chain for approval in the next few days, at which point we hope to have some more concrete news.

The upside to this is it sounds like they're not just looking to slash and burn, that they're looking at ways to make the chain run more cohesively and collaboratively. The downside, unfortunately, is that we're still probably going to take a hit. The conversations between the union and management will definitely continue before and after to make sure that whatever happens, everyone gets treated fairly.

I wish I had more to share with you, but that's all I know for the moment. You guys have done a great job of performing under pressure lately and I hope that won't go unnoticed by the folks who will decide the paper's future. As soon as I hear more, I'll make sure to pass it along, but in the meantime, keep up the fine work you do every day.


Friday, October 06, 2006

The Rumors and the Truth

Hey Guys,

So much for starting the weekend off with an easy Friday, huh? By now, you've probably either heard the rumors, seen LAObserved.com or read Ron's afternoon message, so let me bring you up to speed on what all we've heard on the union side of things. We've been down this road before and I'm sure we'll do it again, but this is serious business.

When the first post went up on LAO today, we heard LANG was seeking deep cuts, between 10 and 20 jobs spread throughout Editorial. I spoke with Ron and shared with him our concern that this would have a crippling effect on the newsroom's ability to put out the newspaper as well as a significant blow to morale. While sympathetic, he had little he could share and asked me to refer questions to Jim Janiga, who handles MediaNews' labor relations. The union began that dialogue this afternoon, though there's no news to share as of yet. Our relationship with Janiga has evolved from adversarial to fairly collegial in recent years, so we hope to continue that throughout this process.

By the afternoon, however, the mood appeared to have shifted. Ron made his case to the LANG execs and came back seeming much more relieved. He said that there could still be some trouble ahead as the company looks for ways to cut expenses, but that the meeting had gone well and would hopefully produce more collaboration throughout the chain. While it was reported earlier that he was considering leaving over the issue, he told me that he felt that we could work through the rocky patch and still put out a product that we can be proud of.

So as it stands now, the LANG folks are going to start crunching numbers and see the best way to continue. There could still be cuts ahead, but rather than just taking them all out of the Daily News, they're going to finally address ways to work better together. We're going to be working with management as closely as possible to preserve as many jobs as we can and demonstrate that any cuts will hurt the paper's longterm health.

On the union front, we're engaged on every front. Kerry and I are talking with Ron and Melissa, union vice president Vicki DiPaolo is speaking with Janiga and we've been in contact with our counterparts at other papers. We will ensure the contract is enforced and that everyone's treated fairly.

And as for what you can do: what you guys do every day. Our best defense is the excellent product we produce. As the number-crunchers look over the Daily News, we've got to show them that they're more than getting their money's worth. Whether it's prep sports, film reviews, biz coverage or local news, we've got so many ways that we excel, we need to remind the people in faraway offices that we do a great job with the limited resources thrown our way. If there's ever been a time to shine and remind them what we're all about, it's now.

Hang in there together and whenever you can see ways to do things better or more intelligently, speak up about it. There may be things we can suggest that will help ease the financial burden without hurting the staff or the paper, so keep an eye out.

So that's all I know at the moment. While this is definitely a serious issue, everyone should stay calm. We've been in plenty of dark spots in the past and we've always found a way to fight our way out. We'll do everything we can to make sure we do this time, too.

Thanks for your time and your help,

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Money, Less Problems

Hey Folks,

I got a bunch of questions about when we'd be getting our union raise, so I wanted to remind everyone to double check their last paycheck to ensure that you got it. As a result of our contract and the hard work you put in, we all got a 2.25 percent increase in our wages. I know it'll never be enough to pay you all for the important work you do, but it's still the best contract we've seen in years. In times when many of our counterparts in the industry are laying people off and trying to keep a lid on expenses, we've got more of a sense of stability and more money in the bank.

And since our business thrives on anniversary stories, let me take a quick moment to point out some of the union's successes in the past year since the contract was ratified. We've continued to see our membership grow in nearly every department, making us stronger and more representative than we've ever been. We've intervened in disciplinary matters to ensure employees were treated fairly and worked with management to deal with editors who got out of hand. We've helped bring new employees into the newsroom and forged a more collaborative relationship with the paper's leadership to solve problems before they come up.

And most importantly, we've worked like crazy all year long. Our staff is so lean, everyone's gotta pitch in, but it feels good to look around the newsroom and see a talented bunch of people every day. You guys bust it every single day and believe me, that makes our job as the union so much easier. We're not sticking up for slackers; we're working to make things better for a bunch of people who deserve it.

So that's where your raise comes from. And it's also where we need your help-- if we're going to hope for better contracts and better raises in the future, we're going to need more members. We've seen how much better things have gotten as we've grown in membership and there's no reason we can't aim even higher. So if you're already a member, help us bring in more folks to help out. If you haven't joined yet, let us know what we can do to bring you onboard. We want to be here for you, but we need your support and guidance on how best to serve you.

So that's it for this Sunday night missive-- we've made tremendous strides from the old days when our membership meetings could be held in a single booth at Ruby's. The Daily News is a better place than it used to be but we can never settle for just alright-- we've all got to keep at it until it's the paper that we want it to be. Thank you to all of you who help work toward that goal.