Lee Enterprises loses revenue, cut staff, rewards top executives

Feb 22, 2018 by

As you would expect, Lee Enterprises executive chairman Mary Junck offered optimistic spin on the state of the company Wednesday at its annual shareholders meeting.

“We have proven ourselves to be flexible and nimble at rethinking, repositioning and redeveloping all aspects of our business,” Junck told shareholders. “We see a bright future for Lee.”

Chief executive officer Kevin Mowbray was similarly upbeat. “With our proven track record of transformation, we are well-positioned and experienced to seize new opportunities and thrive in the future,” he said.

That sounds great, but revenues keep plunging. The company keeps unloading employees while still managing to pay its top executives more — including a $900,000 boost for Mowbray.

Here is the state of the company in a nutshell:

  • Revenues keep plunging due to the precipitous decline in print advertising across the industry.
  • Digital revenues were up 8 percent in the year ending Sept. 24, 2017, but not nearly enough to offset the loss of classified (12.2 percent decline) and retail advertising (10 percent). Digital advertising represented just 28 percent of total advertising. No thanks to Facebook and Google, the digital advertising boom has never arrived in the newspaper industry.
  • Circulation revenue is becoming a bigger piece of the revenue pie, 34 percent in 2017. That revenue source has remained stable, for now, but the company keeps charging more for a print product that keeps getting smaller. Digital and full access subscriptions offer some growth potential — but, again, newsroom staffing cuts keep reducing the quantity and quality of content.
  • Because Lee primarily publishes in small to mid-sized markets, its properties face less competition for content and advertising. So its revenue losses aren’t as severe as newspaper companies focused on metropolitan markets.
  • Aggressive cost-cutting across the board — news gathering, production, administration — has kept Lee profitable. The company reduced its workforce by 8.5 percent last year.
  • The company uses the bulk of those profits to pay down its debt, which shrank to $532 million at the end of 2017. Lee paid down $67.5 million in debt last year, $313 million since its last refinancing, in March of 2014 and more than $1 billion since the 2005 purchase of Pulitzer Publishing. Interest payments continue to shrink, including a $6.6 million reduction last year.
  • Lee hopes refinance some or all of its debt in the near future, with a First Lien Note due next year.
  • Lee’s stock continues to flounder. It closed at $2.55 per share Wednesday, down from a high of $5.42 in early 2014 but up from $1.15 in early 2016.
  • Lee continues to reward its executives well for all of that cost-cutting. According to its Proxy Statement, Mowbray collected more than $2.2 million in salary, stock awards, bonuses and such last year — up about $900,000 from the year before. Junck collected a shade under $2 million, up about $100,000 from 2016.

The UMG represents employees at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lee’s only metropolitan newspaper. Our ongoing challenge is to maintain the best possible news-gathering operation and most effective advertising sales force possible under difficult industry circumstances.

Our members produce the content and our members monetize that content by selling print and digital advertising and marketing services. They are the Post-Dispatch, after all, and Lee must keep investing in them to enjoy the “bright future” Junck speaks of.

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Lee Enterprises newspaper in Wyoming votes to unionize

Feb 20, 2018 by

The United Media Guild salutes employees of the Casper Star-Tribune for seeking representation from the NewsGuild.

The Star-Tribune has absorbed staff cut after staff cut ordered by its parent company, Lee Enterprises. Journalists realized they needed to gain a strong voice in their newsroom.

“We appreciate some of the benefits of being part of a large media corporation,” the organizing committee stated after filing for an election with the National Labor Relations board. “However, Lee Enterprises’ obligations to its shareholders often clash with the interests of our readers in Casper and Wyoming, who rely on the Star-Tribune for vital news and information.

“Organizing the newsroom is our way – as journalists dedicated to the communities we cover – to strengthen the local control over Wyoming’s largest media organization.

“Negotiating a collective agreement for the Star-Tribune’s newsgathering staff will allow us to create more stable reporting jobs in Wyoming, attract more experienced journalists and incentivize them to stay longer. It will also allow us to have a voice in the event of future layoffs or cost-cutting measures. Finally, it will enable us to speak directly to our readers so that any business decisions by Lee Enterprises that hurt Wyoming will not go unnoticed.”

The UMG can appreciate Casper’s concerns. We represent employees at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the largest newspaper owned by the Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises.

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UMG negotiates raises, increased benefits at Jobs with Justice

Feb 20, 2018 by

The United Media Guild achieved many economic gains with its tentative three-year agreement with Missouri Jobs with Justice.

“The staff of Jobs with Justice works very hard to advance the rights of workers,” unit chair Richard von Glahn said. “Having an employer that recognizes and values that work only drives us to work even harder and build JWJ into a successful and powerful organization.”

Business representative Shannon Duffy and von Glahn negotiated the new contract which, if ratified this week, will include:

  • A new minimum base pay of $40,000, which will result in significant raises for several employees.
  • Average salary increases of 15 percent over three years.
  • Family health and dental insurance provided with no premium costs to employees.
  • The employer will contribute $800 a year into the CWA retirement and savings account for each employee and match up to an additional 4 percent.
  • Part time employees will be eligible for health and retirement benefits at a pro-rated basis.
  • Employees will get $1,000 every Jan. 1 in a Health Savings Account.
  • Employees will receive a cell phone on the JWJ plan or up to $65/month in reimbursement for the cost of their personal plan.
  • Employees can sell back up to 40 hours of unused vacation a year at a rate of $15 per hour.
  • Employees working in “campaign mode” will earn 8 hours of vacation for every week they are in such mode.
  • The employer will establish a pre-tax flexible savings program if feasible.

Also, Jobs with Justice and the UMG will establish a labor-management process to help resolve concerns.

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UMG honors Bill McClellan, top activists

Feb 7, 2018 by

Bill McClellan and previous Hughes winner Joel Currier.

Guilder of the Year Joe Holleman addresses his fellow UMG members.

Stanley Jackson accepted the Solidarity Award on behalf of our Fight for 15 unit.

Steward of the year David Blackford.

The United Media Guild honored its top activists and celebrated great journalism at its Local Meeting Feb. 6.

Longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan won the UMG’s Terry Hughes Award, which is judged each year by a panel of former winners of the award.

Ms. Hughes, a columnist for the Post-Dispatch, was 36 when she died of breast cancer on July 22, 1991. Her writing was clear, witty and descriptive, with a flair for portraying society’s underdogs. The same could be said for McClellan’s work.

He sat near Hughes in the Post-Dispatch newspapers and was a great admirer of her work. If she were still alive, McClellan said, “she would have served as a mentor for our young journalists, especially the women.”

McClellan received his award from last year’s winner, Post-Dispatch reporter Joel Currier.

Columnist Joe Holleman, chair of our Post-Dispatch unit, was honored as Guilder of the Year. He has long been a strong advocate for all of our members at the Post, not just those in the newsroom.

David Blackford of the Pekin Daily Times was named Steward of the Year. There have been no shortage of issues to address at that newspaper — it is owned by GateHouse Media, after all — and he has helped us resolve many problems. Blackford noted that as a former UAW member in the auto industry, he learned the value of unionism and the need to step up for co-workers.

Rockford Register Star reporter Kristen Zambo was named Activist of the Year. Like Blackford, she works for GateHouse. Like Pekin, Rockford has had no shortage of problems to address while continuing its fight for a fair first contract. Zambo stepped as acting unit chair after the previous chair, photographer Max Gersh, moved on to a new job in Florida.

Our members of the “Fight for 15” campaign were honored with the Solidarity Award. That is a new UMG unit with members spanning the contiguous United States. The unit’s St. Louis-area steward, Stanley Jackson, took a bow for the group.

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UMG works to distinguish real news from marketing content

Jan 16, 2018 by

Protecting the craft of journalism is one of the United Media Guild’s most important tasks.

We have fought hard to prevent journalists from being assigned to write advertorial copy, particularly for the GateHouse Newspapers chain. A journalist’s job is to report real news and writing advertorial copy would undermine that work.

Recently at the Post-Dispatch the UMG has worked with management to make sure that the real news reported by journalists is clearly delineated from marketing content.

(Sponsored content also appears side-by-side with real news on the STLToday.com site, but it is clearly marked. We would prefer that sponsored content did not exist, but it IS a source of digital revenue).

The “Advancing STL” section on the STLToday.com home page is identified as  “Marketing” and its stories feature the tagline “Produced by our marketing department” over the top of the copy.

We want to thank Post-Dispatch unit chair Joe Holleman for working with management to make certain that the lines between real news and marketing content are not blurred.

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UMG to hold Local Meeting and awards ceremony Feb. 6

Jan 14, 2018 by

umglogoThe United Media Guild will hold a Local Meeting and awards ceremony starting at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Lombardo’s Restaurant at the Drury Inn Union Station.

The meeting is open to all members in good standing. Beverages will be provided (beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee) and an appetizer buffet will be served free of charge. Members can purchase cocktails on their own.

After tending to a small amount of Local business, the UMG will present its Guilder of the Year, Activist of the Year and Steward of the Year awards to individual members and its Solidarity Award to an entire unit.

The UMG also expects to honor the winner of its annual Terry Hughes Award for exemplary journalism.

Please RSVP the Guild office by leaving a message at 314-241-7046 or by e-mailing office manager Rachel Zaron at rzaron@unitedmediaguild.org.

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GateHouse offers to end eternal pay freeze

Dec 12, 2017 by

Bargaining between the NewsGuild-CWA and GateHouse Media has resulted in a global agreement for all Guild represented newspapers currently owned by GateHouse.

Those newspapers include United Media Guild units at the Peoria Journal Star, State Journal-Register, Pekin Daily Times, Rockford Register Star and Freeport Journal Standard.

The global agreement includes wage increases to wages and scales and frozen healthcare premiums for 2018 and 2019:

  • 1.00% wage increase effective September 1, 2018.
  • 1.75% wage increase effective October 1, 2019.
  • For calendar year 2018 health insurance premiums and plan design including, but not limited to benefit levels, co-payments, co-insurance, out of pocket maximums and deductibles for Guild employees shall remain at 2017 levels.  In those units where 2017 premium amounts paid by employees were based on 2016 premiums maintained under status quo terms or otherwise, like Rockford, the 2018 premium amounts paid by employees will remain at 2017 levels.
  • Health insurance premiums for calendar year 2019 shall remain at 2017 levels, but plan design including benefit levels, co-payments, co-insurance, out of pocket maximums and deductibles shall be equivalent to those offered to non-union employees in the same newspaper organization for 2019.

    Springfield journalists stand up for their craft.

  • Contractual terms or status quo terms regarding health insurance matters other than plan design shall not be impacted  and remain unchanged in 2019. These would include, but are not limited to existing premium catch-up subsidies; percentage of premium shares (employer/employee); deductible reimbursements; reimbursements; reimbursements to bargaining unit employees for co-insurance amounts; lump sum payments to employees with alternative health coverage, as well as dental, vision, EAP, life insurance and other insurance coverage. However, these matters are subject to additional bargaining.
  • The parties have also agreed to a joint process to analyze The United Furniture Workers Health Insurance Fund for Guild bargaining-unit employees at GateHouse properties. The joint process will take place between January 10 and April 15, 2018 and, if successful, will allow locals to negotiate, even mid-contract term, for UFW coverage that could allow members to share in any cost savings.

Each unit will vote on the global economic agreement, preferably before January 1, 2018. This is NOT a complete collective bargaining agreement, so members in Rockford and Springfield working without a contract would not have to pay union dues if they approve this agreement.

Individual units approving the agreement will proceed to Stage Two bargaining starting in early 2018 with a deadline of June 30, 2018.

Stage Two bargaining will be conducted in a “Table”-style bargaining process with locals with commonality grouped together. In our case, Peoria and Pekin would be together in one group and Rockford/Freeport and Springfield would be in another.

Bargaining ground rules and a structure for the “Table” bargaining are currently being crafted, but each local would have their representatives present for the bargaining sessions. We will have more information on that in January.

If any newspaper fails to reach a settlement in Stage Two bargaining by June 30, the Guild can resume most components of its corporate campaign against GateHouse.

Units that vote down this global economic proposal will forgo the scheduled raises and insurance protections and continue bargaining with GateHouse in the traditional fashion with the goal of gaining more. Those units are free to engage in internal and external mobilization within their markets as part of that process.

And after June 30, 2018, those units without new contracts could also participate in a larger corporate campaign against GateHouse.

Our goal in this process was to create a more constructive relationship with GateHouse. This could be a starting point — since some of our units have gone a decade with across-the-board raises — but there is still much work to be done.

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Nominations sought for Terry Hughes Award

Dec 6, 2017 by

Terry Hughes was 36 when she died of breast cancer on July 22, 1991.  A columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, her writing was clear, witty and descriptive, with a flair for portraying society’s underdogs.  Some of her columns chronicled the bouts with cancer that she and others faced.  One column was credited with helping persuade the Missouri Legislature to approve a bill forcing insurers to pay for mammograms.

One of the many readers who wrote to the newspaper after her death

Joel Currier, past Terry Hughes Award winner

described her work this way: “Her columns were full of real life stories that touched us all and even changed our way of thinking or even our lives.”

The United Media Guild has established a writing award in the name of Ms. Hughes.  The award is intended to honor a journalist whose writing shows the talent that she displayed.

Any journalist in the metropolitan St. Louis area who has written for a daily or weekly newspaper, a magazine or an on-line publication is eligible.

Single articles of extraordinary merit will be considered.  Preference will be given to entries of between three and ten articles that display the writer’s range of talent.

Articles must have been published in 2017.  There are no formal applications.  Anyone may submit a nomination by sending copies of articles to:

The Terry Hughes Award Committee

United Media Guild

1015 Locust St.

Suite 735

St. Louis, Mo.  63101

The deadline for applications is Friday, January 5, 2018.  The panel of judges is comprised of previous award winners. The award will be presented by the United Media Guild at its quarterly Local Meeting in late January or early February.

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