TNG-CWA calls on St. Louis police to stop arresting working journalists

Oct 5, 2017 by

The mayor and acting police commissioner of St. Louis must be held accountable for the arrest of journalists covering public protests in the city, The NewsGuild-CWA declared at a meeting of its Executive Council on Oct. 5.

“The mayor and acting police commissioner must stop the practice of arresting of journalists who are doing their job — informing the people,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of NewsGuild-CWA, the parent union of the United Media Guild.

Five journalists were arrested on Oct. 3 while covering a protest of the acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley, who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. This was one of the many protests that have occurred since a judge found Stockley, a white patrolman, not guilty of the murder of Smith, who was black.

The Young Turks political reporter Jordan Chariton and his cameraman Ty Bayliss were detained overnight, as was NewsGuild member Al Neal, a reporter for People’s World. Independent journalist Jon Ziegler and freelance photographer Daniel Shular were also held along with a legal observer, Steven Hoffman. They were among the 143 persons arrested at the protest.

Several times police also threatened to arrest UMG member Robert Cohen, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer — despite the fact he remained behind police lines and away from the protest that briefly blocked Interstate 64.

Two journalists were arrested while reporting on protests on Sept. 17: UMG member Michael Faulk, a Post-Dispatch reporter, and Scott Olson, a Getty photographer.

Additionally, Post-Dispatch photographer and UMG member Christian Gooden was pepper-sprayed by police on Sept. 29 while covering protests — despite moving away from police and turning his back to them as they sprayed protesters.

Gooden was pepper-sprayed after chronicling a single protester being subdued with a taser and arrested.

“The police were aware of my presence did not react negatively as I photographed the arrestee, his arresting officers and the taser cords they pulled out of him,” Gooden reported to the UMG. “Soon thereafter, dozens of protesters convened at the police line to decry his arrest and the use of a taser. At this moment, police sprayed everyone in front of the police line in a sweeping motion.

“I stepped away until I thought they were done. When I turned back to approach the line, I saw a second spraying by police toward the protesters, who were still coming to see what was going on with the arrests. I turned away hoping to avoid a spray and calculated that my turned back would bear no threat.

“That’s when I felt a cool, wet stream of the pepper spray dousing the base of my head. As I felt the stream, it seemed as though the officer tried to maneuver the spray around my head to get to my eyes. Keeping pace with the spray, I turned my head to keep square with the stream and keep it out of my eyes.”

Gooden estimated that the spraying lasted 5 or 6 seconds.

“Mayor Lyda Krewson and acting Police Commissioner Lawrence O’Toole must put a stop to the arrest of journalists, legal observers and others without cause,” Lunzer said.

“Journalists play a special role – as do the police,” he said. “If police are to be respected, they must respect others.”

The ongoing problems in St. Louis are, sadly, not unusual. This is why NewsGuild-CWA has embarked on its multi-faceted “Right to Report” project. 

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Arrest of P-D reporter underscores need for “Right to Report” campaign

Sep 21, 2017 by

Each day reporters and photographers find it more difficult to do their job. Journalists must fight harder for access and information. They are under attack from every angle.

Vulture capitalists are buying up newspapers and stripping down news-gathering operations to maximize profits.  Government officials have become more hostile towards those gathering real news. Police arrest reporters who are trying to chronicle events unfolding in public.

Those seeking to limit or even eliminate the free press from our society work to delegitimize quality reporting. Propagandists are polluting the information superhighway with fake news.

The hostility toward journalists has spread to the local level. St. Louis police arrested United Media Guild member Mike Faulk, a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,  while he was covering public demonstrations. Faulk was swept up in a mass arrest, roughed up by police and held for 13 hours despite breaking no laws.

“St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalists and other credentialed news media provide critical information to the public,” said Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon. “When St. Louis police arrested Mike, after he fully identified himself while covering the protests, they violated basic tenets of our democracy. Additionally, the physical abuse he suffered during the arrest is abhorrent and must be investigated. The Post-Dispatch is calling for our city leaders to immediately implement policies that will prevent journalists from being arrested without cause.”

An attorney for the Post-Dispatch demanded that charges against Faulk be dropped. In a letter to Mayor Lyda Krewson, Acting Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole, City Counselor Julian Bush and Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin, the lawyer also demanded that the city take steps to prevent “any recurrence of arrests of journalists who are covering these important events and who are engaged in no criminal activity whatsoever.”

Earlier this year, as former UMG president Tim O’Neil  lost part of a finger when an attorney for Sunset Hills slammed a door on him while he was attempting to cover a hearing as a reporter for the Post-Dispatch.

Such incidents underscore why the UMG, the national NewsGuild and our parent union, the Communications Workers of America, are pushing back with a multi-faceted “Right to Report” campaign.

This campaign includes a push for legislation that would make it felony to assault journalists doing their job. After all, an assault on journalists is an attack on the First Amendment — one of the cornerstones of our democratic society. This effort will start in states that already have “shield laws” on the books.

National legislation will be impossible to pass in the current political environment, but we must press the issue.

The Guild will continue key joining legal fights backing freedom of information and other First Amendment issues. The Guild has assembled a rapid response team to work with its new communications coordinator to address First Amendment issues that arise. The Guild is also joining forces with the Committee to Protect Journalists and other groups dedicated to protect the freedom of the press.

 

Communications Workers of America delegates supported the “Defend the Right to Report” resolution presented the by The News Guild sector during its convention earlier this month in Pittsburgh.

The resolution declares the CWA’s support for:

  • The fight against attacks on journalists and the First Amendment.
  • National and state legislation that would make it a felony to assault journalists, including reporters, photographers and videographers.
  • The expansion of state shield laws.
  • Passage, enforcement and adherence to Freedom of Information laws at the federal, state and municipal levels.
  • Promoting alliances among groups that support journalists’ ability to perform their work unfettered.
  • Allowing journalists to cover public events, report on protests, and question officials without fear of arrest or other forms of intimidation.

The News Guild is also taking on hedge funds — like Alden Capital and Fortress Investment Group, which manages GateHouse Media properties — with national campaigns to highlight the damage they do to local newspapers and the communities they are trying to serve.

Remember: Every journalist joining the Guild joins the fight to protect our craft and save the First Amendment.

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2017 Labor Day Parade!

Sep 1, 2017 by

 

Every year the United Media Guild marches with our CWA sisters and brothers.  This year the CWA is second in line!  The line starts on Olive, at 15th St.), travels east to Tucker, turns right and goes to Market and turns right again and goes a couple hundred yards on Market.  That’s it.  It’s less than a mile.

The parade starts at 0900 but you need to get there early in order to get a CWA shirt (all the various unions hand out shirts to their members, usually it’s a common color).   Also, there will be a rally at 19th and Olive at 8:00 a.m. and everyone who is lining up is encouraged to stroll on over to check it out.  With organized labor and the middle class coming under constant attack, there are some wonderful organizations and coalitions doing good work to push back on behalf of working families and this rally promises to highlight some of that work (the rally is expected to run about 40 minutes).

As usual, once the parade is over, everyone gathers near the finish line for some refreshments.  I hope to see you all there!

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The News Guild honors Dean Olsen with national award

Aug 8, 2017 by

Dean Olsen at the State Journal-Register.

The News Guild honored Dean Olsen with the Larry Cohen Movement Building Award at its national Sector Conference Aug. 4 in Pittsburgh.

Olsen, a decorated news reporter, led our organizing drive at the State Journal-Register and served as Springfield unit chair since Day 1. He followed that internal organizing success — which resulted in a 26-4 vote to unionize — by leading a textbook external organizing effort in central Illinois.

With Olsen leading the charge, our Springfield members reached far beyond the local labor community for support in their fight against the asset-stripping GateHouse Media management. These journalists manned an information booth at the Labor Pavilion at the Illinois State fair and encouraged readers from across the region to sign support cards to be forwarded to the newspaper’s management.

The SJ-R staff also gained the support of political, business and religious leaders who agreed that Springfield deserved a first-rate newspaper — something GateHouse threatened with draconian staff cutbacks and a years-long pay freeze at the profitable publication.

Olsen and Co. staged successful public demonstrations, drew extensive media coverage and gained advertiser support. The backed their “Save the SJ-R” radio advertising campaign by making numerous speaking appearances in the community.

Those efforts finally coaxed a contract proposal from GateHouse, but it did not include raises. The Springfield unit voted down the offer and has worked under imposed conditions since while continuing its fight for a fair agreement.

Olsen assisted in our successful organizing drive at the Rockford Register Star, working with activists at that GateHouse newspaper to win another vote. At the behest of The News Guild’s national office, he made contacts at news operations across the country and triggered successful organizing drives in Lakeland and Sarasota.

Those are the first two Guild newspapers in Florida, which is notoriously hostile to labor unions.

Olsen was an obvious choice for this award, which is named after retired Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen. (Appropriately, the first winner of the national award was Olsen’s mentor in the labor movement, UMG business representative Shannon Duffy.)

Cohen urges local unions to build bargaining power by joining the larger progressive movement and becoming part of a broader coalition. Olsen succeeded on local and national levels, rallying public support for the State Journal-Register contract push while also inspiring journalists to join the larger corporate campaign against GateHouse.

The UMG has been blessed with many remarkable leaders over the years and Olsen stands tall among them. His groundbreaking internal and external mobilizing creates vivid best practices for current and future activists to follow.

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UMG ratifies new contract at Pekin Daily Times

Jul 26, 2017 by

United Media Guild members at the Pekin Daily Times unanimously approved a new two-year collective bargaining agreement with GateHouse Media.

In face of plummeting circulation at the newspaper and ongoing employee turnover, our members favored expedited bargaining that focused on a few key issues.

In an addition to providing a signing bonus, the new contract included several important points:

  • The addition of seven new paid days off — five personal days and two floating holidays.
  • A new monthly stipend for the use of a cell phone on the job.
  • The continuation of the GateHouse company incentive bonuses, which our members have collected several times.
  • A new minimum rate established for the company’s adjustable mileage reimbursement, which rises and falls according to prevailing fuel prices. Previously their was no reimbursement floor.
  • Strengthened seniority protections. In the absence of employee evaluations, layoffs will occur in inverse order of seniority.
  • Strengthened vacation request policy. The company must now approve or reject vacation requests within 14 days. Due to concerns created by short staffing, management had put off ruling on some requests for months.

Once again the UMG’s primary objective during negotiations was keeping the Daily Times operating in Pekin in the face of GateHouse consolidations in the region.

Due to our contract in place there, the company earlier rolled the operations of neighboring weekly properties into the Daily Times, not the other way around.

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UMG award Press Club scholarship to UMSL student

Jul 20, 2017 by

As part of its ongoing efforts to promote the craft of journalism, the United Media Guild awards a $1,000 scholarship each year through the St. Louis Press Club.

Joe Kenny, Jeff Gordon,, Candice Murdock and William Greenblatt

The 2017 award went to Candice Murdock, who is majoring in media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It was presented at a Press Club luncheon at the International Photography Hall of Fame.

UMG vice president Joe Kenny, a reporter at the St. Louis Review, was on the judging panel for the Press Club. He presented the scholarship along with UMG president Jeff Gordon and Press Club president William Greenblatt.

Murdock has reported for the UMSL student newspaper, The Current, and worked in the multimedia production department. She is also a peer mentor for the school’s multicultural organization.

She said she enjoys “getting people’s perspectives on issues that matter to the community.”

Among the other scholarships awarded at the luncheon were two sponsored by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The $5,000 David Lipman scholarship went to University of Missouri-Columbia student Tashan Reed and the $2,500 Ronald W. Wade Scholarship went to Gabrielle Hayes, who also attends Mizzou.

 

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Nominations sought for TNG sector conference delegates

Jun 2, 2017 by

The United Media Guild can send up to four delegates to the The NewsGuild’s sector conference in Pittsburgh Aug. 4 and Aug. 5.  Of those delegates, one will be eligible to attend the CWA Convention immediately following the Guild’s Sector Conference.

We will accept nominations for delegates in person at the Guild office at 1015 Locust, Suite 735, St. Louis at two nominations meetings on June 15 — from noon to 1 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

UMG members may also nominate fellow members for delegate by e-mail to sduffy@unitedmediaguild.org before 6 p.m. June 15.

If there are more than four nominees willing to serve as delegates to the Sector Conference or more than one to attend the CWA Convention, we will hold a mail election to determine the delegation.

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New Media shareholders share UMG’s concerns about GateHouse management

May 31, 2017 by

Wes Edens

GateHouse Media’s buying and slashing spree has led to the wholesale deterioration of once-great newspaper properties.

The United Media Guild sees this damage daily while representing members at the Peoria Journal Star, State Journal-Register of Springfield, Rockford Register Star, Pekin Daily Times and Freeport Journal Standard.

Major shareholders in GateHouse’s parent company, New Media Investment Group, are taking note.  They voted overwhelmingly in favor of the UMG’s non-binding proposal for an annual election of directors instead of staggered elections.

Shareholders also withheld votes for New Media Investment Group board chairman Wes Edens by a 2-to-1 margin, signaling considerable unrest.

UMG president Jeff Gordon presented the good governance proposal at New Media’s annual shareholders meeting in suburban Rochester, N.Y., May 25. UMG business representative Shannon Duffy and NewsGuild-CWA sector representative Tammy Turnbull also attended the meeting.

Earlier in the month NewsGuild-CWA supported this proposal with letters to top New Media shareholders, seeking to create a more responsive board.

In its letter to shareholders, TNG-CWA noted that: “At a time when newspaper publishers and employees must work together to promote the value of real news and find revenue solutions in a distressed industry, New Media has demoralized its workforce with an eternal wage freeze (up to a decade at some properties), constant layoffs and a more hostile negotiating stance at NewsGuild-represented units. In our opinion, cost-cutting through headcount reductions has reached the point of negative returns.”

While the cuts maximized cash flow to pay stock dividends and fund further acquisitions, it also undermined the whole enterprise. Circulation is down, print advertising is way down and the gains in digital advertising and the Propel Marketing initiative haven’t offset that decline.

Not only has the company lost great journalists to layoffs and voluntary departures, it has also churned salespersons, advertising managers, publishers, regional executives and even national-level managers.

Against the backdrop, UMG’s proposal won in a landslide, 35 million to 7.2 million. Edens, a principal in Fortress Investment Group, received 14.3 million votes “for” and had 28 million votes withheld.

New Media’s buy-and-slash newspaper strategy has worked great for Edens and Fortress, the company’s external manager. Fortress has collected more than $60 million in management fees and incentive compensation since launching and expanding the company from the ashes of GateHouse Media’s $1.2 billion bankruptcy.

The strategy has been less great for shareholders, producing healthy dividends but driving down the stock price. After topping $25 per share back in March, 2015, New Media stock was trading at about $13 on May 31.

Analysts began souring on New Media stock last year, changing “buy” ratings to “hold” or “sell”. Earlier in May, New Media’s board of directors authorized a $100 million stock buyback during the next year to shore up the stock’s price.

Hence the shareholder interest in creating a board of directors more aligned with their interests rather than the interests of Fortress. Although the UMG proposal was non-binding, the Council of Institutional Investors notes that 75 percent of majority-supported proposals are implemented withing three years.

And while Edens remains the board chairman, the Council of Institutional Investors believes directors failing to receive a majority vote in uncontested elections should resign.

“CII’s corporate governance policies state that in uncontested elections, directors should be elected by majority vote; directors who fail to receive a majority support should step down from the board and not be reappointed,” it notes on its website.

Edens did not attend the shareholders meeting. Gordon, Duffy and Turnbull engaged New Media CEO Michael Reed in an informal discussion after the brief shareholders meeting. Reed listened to the Guild’s concerns about the state of his newsrooms and expressed his own concerns about the negative impact of the Guild’s community and corporate campaigns.

Almost every Guild contract at GateHouse-operated newspapers is currently open with little to no progress being made in negotiations. As a result, TNG-CWA locals in that fight have joined forces in a multi-faceted initiative against the company that includes joint mobilization, joint bargaining strategies, community campaigns, organizing efforts at unrepresented newspapers and a broader corporate campaign with shareholder outreach.

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