Post-Dispatch outsources its copy editing and design jobs

Feb 16, 2019 by

In a move the United Media Guild has long feared, Lee Enterprises announced it would move the design and copy-editing work at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to its design/editing hub in Munster, Ind.

Post-Dispatch management had long resisted the industry-wide trend toward production consolidation. Lee long ago outsourced the design and editing functions of its other newspapers, mirroring the consolidation to design/editing hubs that occurred in Gannett, GateHouse and other chains.

“Such outsourcing inevitably weakens the newspaper, since editors with little knowledge of the St. Louis region will be editing copy, writing headlines and designing pages of the Post-Dispatch,” UMG president Jeff Gordon said. “But our remaining members will do their best to maintain the P-D’s high journalistic standards and keep serving the community.”

The Post-Dispatch was among the last chain-owned newspapers of its size to retain its design and editing jobs. But that fact offers no consolation to the eight Guild members who now face a lay-off due to this decision.

This outsourcing comes at a time when the Post-Dispatch is already offering buyouts to both Guild-represented and exempt employees. These cutbacks came on the heels of Lee’s sale of the Post-Dispatch building and its agreement to move its operation to a nearby building owned by its new landlord.

Why all the slashing?

The Post-Dispatch remains profitable. But its revenues continue declining, as they are across the industry. Lee wants to maximize its cash flow so it can continue paying down its onerous debt at an accelerated rate and refinance it at better terms.

But another challenge has emerged: Dissident shareholder Carlo Cannell has been highly critical of Lee’s management while urging a makeover of the company’s board of directors. His effort could draw the interest of vulture capitalist firms like Alden Global Capital, which is buying up and stripping down newspapers across the country.

Cannell’s initiative has prompted Lee to find more money to defend this attack at the shareholder level. That has also given Lee motivation to run an even leaner operation, since potential bidders like Digital First (backed by Alden) and GateHouse (backed by Fortress Investment Group) target companies they believe they could squeeze more money from.

Lee’s rationale: If there is nothing left to squeeze, maybe the vulture capitalists will leave us alone. But in the meantime, its newspapers suffer.

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UMG honors Tony Messenger, Shawn Anglin and other members at awards dinner

Feb 8, 2019 by

The United Media Guild honored some of its top activists and one of its most accomplished journalists Thursday night at its annual Local Meeting and awards dinner.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger won the Terry Hughes Award for exemplary journalism. UMG secretary Doug Moore, himself a more Hughes Award winner, explained why:

His columns on debtors’ prisons in rural Missouri started with the case of Victoria Branson, a woman from St. Francois County who had been sent to prison because she couldn’t afford court costs in a long defunct child support case. Branson was released from prison after Messenger’s column about her was published. Soon, tips came in from all over Missouri’s rural counties of similar stories, and Messenger worked closely with the state public defender’s office, which was filing appeals in such cases, arguing that a scheme to use the courts as a collection service for expensive jail bills amounted to

Hughes Award winner Tony Messenger with past winners Doug Moore and Michele Munz.

a modern day debtors’ prison.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court held arguments in two of the cases Messenger has written about. Two of the legal briefs filed in the case reference Messenger’s columns as evidence for the court to declare the scheme illegal.

Shawn Anglin, an editor and reporter at The Southern Illinoisan, was honored as Guilder of the Year. Anglin is the unit chair of this newly-organized group. Journalists at The Southern voted 12-0 to join the Guild and they are currently bargaining their first contract.

The Southern unit won the UMG’s Solidarity Award for that unanimous vote and for its

ongoing internal and external mobilization. Sportswriter Todd Hefferman, the unit vice chair, and reporter Marilyn Halstead, the unit secretary, accepted the award.

Retired Labor Tribune reporter Kevin Madden received the Activist of the Year Award for his tireless effort to defeat “Right to Work” in Missouri. Madden, the long-time unit chair at the Tribune, spent long days gathering signatures in support of other progressive ballot initiatives as well.

“Fight for 15” activist Stanley Jackson received the Steward of the Year. He provided invaluable leadership for of UMG’s national unit of organizers who mobilize fast-food workers in the fight for better wages.

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Sinking revenues force more Lee Enterprises cutbacks, draw shareholder scrutiny

Feb 7, 2019 by

The good news for Lee Enterprises: The company continues paying down its onerous debt at an accelerated rate.

The bad news for Lee: Revenues keep declining, prompting cost-cutting that diminishes journalism content, its core product. The company is also drawing the ire of at least one activist shareholder.

United Media Guild members have felt the brunt of this cost-cutting in several ways:

  • Another round of buyouts is underway at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The company is seeking to reduce payroll yet again and we could see more layoffs if the company doesn’t get enough volunteers.
  • The Post-Dispatch building has been sold and the new owner wants to clear the building for renovations. So P-D, which now rents from the new owner, will be moved to another building one block to the east.
  • Negotiations for a first contract for our new members at the Southern Illinoisan have gone slowly. The company has been unwilling to agree to some basic layoff protocols that have worked fine elsewhere.
  • Meanwhile the printing operation at the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale is closing. The newspaper will be printed by the Post-Dispatch, change that will move up deadlines and knock key content (night meetings, Southern Illinois University sports, high school game coverage) out of the printed product.

Against this backdrop, Lee Enterprises is under attack from Carlo Cannell and his Wyoming-based Cannell Capital. He is urging shareholders to vote against incumbent board members, including chairman Mary Junck.

His complaints are familiar: Lee dramatically overpaid for the Post-Dispatch, Junck has earned more than $40 million of compensation since 2002 despite the company’s free fall, and the current board of directors has a friends-and-family vibe.

He also cited the unwillingness of Lee to go all-in on a digital transformation ala the New York Times. But in fairness to Lee, digital transformations have yielded disappointing results beyond a few major outlets with national audiences.

Most of Lee’s properties are in mid-sized and small markets, where the print product has staying power and the digital potential is somewhat limited. Lee has done a better job detaining print revenue than some rival chains.

Cannell’s complaint didn’t reveal much insight into this distressed industry. Still, he told CorpGov.com that his actions have drawn inquires from private-equity groups.

That is notable. Might this be the start of a hostile bid for the company?

The consolation of the newspaper industry is ongoing. Lee recently bought the Kenosha News and Lake Geneva Regional News, two Wisconsin properties that are a good fit for the company.

Gannett recently fended off a bid from the company that controls Digital First Media, a chain that shamelessly plunders newspapers for cash flow. GateHouse Media, which owns UMG-represented Illinois newspapers in Springfield, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford, has also remains in acquisition mode.

To combat Cannell’s attack, Lee is spending an additional $425,000 to solicit proxy votes. The UMG is monitoring the situation and we plan on attending next week’s shareholders meeting in Davenport, Iowa.

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UMG to hold Local Meeting and awards ceremony Feb. 7

Jan 20, 2019 by

umglogoThe United Media Guild will hold a Local Meeting and awards ceremony starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7 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 a 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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Nominations sought for Terry Hughes Award

Jan 6, 2019 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 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 issues 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 2018.  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 January 16, 2019.  The panel of judges is comprised of previous award winners. The award will be presented by the United Media Guild at its annual dinner early February.

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Ho! Ho! Ho!

Dec 18, 2018 by

Companies that employ union and nonunion workers, work tirelessly to keep the two factions separated.  The last thing they want is everyone hanging out together and their nonunion workers begin to think about organizing (“Hey Boss, how come the union guys get…?”).  This is especially true if the employer has more than one workplace (like a media chain).  Those employers send not so subtle messages to nonunion workers that they have it BETTER than their union counterparts.  And to make that point, they will give them little gifts, gifts they will deny their union workers (“See, you non-organized guys are our favorite – that’s why we treat you better!”).

Union negotiators understand this and, to combat it, try to get “me too” clauses inserted into their collective bargaining agreements.  Such provisions mandate that if a company decides to give one segment of its employees a gift, it has to give the employees covered by the agreement that same gift (hence the term “me too”).  It goes without saying, then, that corporations hate such provisions and fight against including them in their union contracts.  To that point, The United Media Guild just negotiated a new three year agreement at KSDK-TV and, thanks to our hard working unit chair (shout out to Phil Evans!), I just received this notice:

 

 

 

December 17, 2018

Shannon Duffy

Administrative Officer

United Media Guild

TNG-CWA Local 36047

 

Re:       One-time discretionary bonus payment

 

Dear Shannon:

 

Today, TEGNA announced a 2018 one-time discretionary bonus payment of $500.00 for current regular full-time and part-time non-bargaining unit employees, who are not part of an existing annual bonus program (regular full-time and part-time employees newly hired in 2018 will receive a pro-rated 2018 on-time discretionary bonus payment).  This discretionary bonus will be paid to employees on December 21, 2018 and will be subject to applicable state and federal taxes, along with any 401(k) contributions.

 

Pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, we are providing this one-time bonus to the Guild bargaining unit members.

 

Please advise if you have any questions or if you wish to discuss.

 

*           *          *          *          *

 

(And I heard Phil exclaim ‘ere he rode out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all my union sisters and brothers here’s a nice check!”)

 

 

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Fight For 15 wins first contract!

Dec 15, 2018 by

Fast Food Organizers, represented by United Media Guild and employed by the National Fast Food Workers Union (an SEIU affiliate) ratified their first contract today.  The three year agreement includes a signing bonus, raises and a very generous benefits package, as well as all the usual staples of a good contract – grievance and arbitration language, progressive discipline, anti-discrimination language, even a stipend for those who use a second language in performance of their duties.

The agreement came after a year of bargaining and the fifty or so organizers working in seven different regions around the U.S. elected stewards and sent them to the bargaining table.  The last several months things slowed and saw bargaining occurring in the offices of a federal mediator in Washington, DC.

“Through it all, I was impressed at how united our bargaining team members were and how well they kept their their fellow workers engaged and informed,” said Guild representative, Shannon Duffy.  “This group of activists is changing the way Americans think about things like fairness and a living wage.  The United Media Guild is proud to be associated with such a committed group of activists and such a noble cause.”

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UMG to hold Local, then Post-Dispatch unit meeting Dec. 12

Nov 27, 2018 by

The United Media Guild will hold a Local Meeting, then a St. Louis Post-Dispatch unit meeting Wednesday, Dec. 12, at its offices in St. Louis 1015 Locust Street, Suite 735.

At the Local Meeting at 5:30 p.m., we will seek delegate nominations for the NewsGuild Sector Conference Jan. 25-27 in Orlando, Fla., and the CWA Convention July 29-31 in Las Vegas. Nominations can also be e-mailed to business representative Shannon Duffy at sduffy@unitedmediaguild.org.

The UMG can send up to four delegates to the sector conference. We expect to have two delegates to the CWA convention. To be eligible for the CWA Convention, a delegate must first attend the sector conference.

If we end up with more nominees than we have spots for, we will hold a Local-wide election by mail. The top two vote-getters will be delegates to both the Sector Conference and the CWA Convention.

At the P-D unit meeting, we will seek nominations for unit chair (currently Joe Holleman) and three at-large seats on our Executive Committee. Beth O’Malley and Denise Hollinshed currently hold at-large spots and one seat is vacant.

Nominations can also be e-mailed to Duffy at sduffy@unitedmediaguild.org.

If we have multiple nominees for unit chair or more nominees for at-large spots on the executive committee, we will hold an in-person vote at the unit meeting.

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