Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger wins Pulitzer Prize

Apr 15, 2019 by

Earlier this year the United Media Guild honored St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger with its Terry Hughes Award for exemplary journalism. His exposure of Missouri’s “debtors prisons” stirred outrage and triggered change.

Monday he won a something exponentially greater for his work: the Pulitzer Prize.

With his series of compelling columns, Messenger told the stories of individuals exploited by the legal system in Missouri.

“It’s a story about how we treat people in our state,” Messenger amid a celebration in the Post-Dispatch newsroom. “It’s a story I’m going to keep telling.”

As the Post-Dispatch noted:

Messenger’s columns led to significant action. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously said that the state’s judges cannot use their courts to threaten indigent defendants with jail time, nor to collect such debts as court costs. The Missouri House passed a bill that would make all such collections civil procedures. The state Senate is now considering the bill . . .

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

Those columns, said Michael Wolff, a retired Missouri Supreme Court chief justice and former dean of the St. Louis University School of Law, tell the story of prosecutors and judges across the state putting people in jail simply because they are poor. 

“It is a rare and beautiful thing when solid reporting so shocks the legal system that change becomes inevitable,” Wolff wrote in support of Messenger’s nomination. “Tony Messenger is making that kind of impact.”

Messenger joined the Post-Dispatch photography staff as UMG members recently winning the Pulitzer, journalism’s most cherished prize. The photographers won in 2015 for their vivid coverage of the Ferguson unrest after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

These award-winning efforts are shining examples of the vital role great journalism plays in our society. This is why we will continue to fight for the craft of journalism and all of the UMG members doing public good at the Post-Dispatch, Peoria Journal-Star, State Journal-Register, Rockford Register Star, The Southern Illinoisan, Pekin Daily Times, St. Louis Review,  St. Louis Labor Tribune and Truthout.

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Pay equity study at the Post-Dispatch identifies disparity

Apr 3, 2019 by

Promoting pay equity one of The NewsGuild’s top national priorities in 2019. Examining the disparity in pay for men and women in the workplace is a mandate for each TNG Local. The United Media Guild conducted such a study at the Post-Dispatch, following the lead of Guild-represented newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

At the Post-Dispatch, our union contract guarantees annual pay step increases to the top of the pay scale for non-commission employees at the paper, and a livable base wage for those on commission. Because of this, we don’t suffer from the massive gender pay disparities that plague other papers like the Los Angeles Times, where the median gap between men and women in newsroom is $14,000.  

There are, however, notable disparities in the data worth discussing. The United Media Guild’s analysis of salaries for union members in the newsroom and advertising departments finds that, for the newsroom, the median salary for women is less than the median salary for men.

Of the 20 highest-paid people in the newsroom, four are women. The highest-paid woman in the newsroom receives the twelfth-highest salary. Women in the newsroom make less than the median base rate of $33.63; the median base rate for women is $33.22. In one year, that’s a nearly $800 difference. The median base rate for men in the newsroom is $34.34.

Advertising data tells a different story. Of the top 20 highest-paid employees in advertising, including retail and classified advertising, and creative, according to base pay, four are men. Sixteen are women. The highest-paid woman in advertising ranks second in the top 20.

Base rates, as opposed to annual salaries, were used to level the playing field for analysis, as some Guild members work on commission and others receive overtime. The study didn’t analyze experience or years of service, as that detail would make it too easy to identify people.

The Guild understands the current financial difficulties in journalism. We encourage management to work to improve gender pay equity at the Post-Dispatch.

The Guild encourages members who feel they are under-compensated to present their cases individually to their managers and ask for raises. The Guild will support the requests by providing information about an individual member’s salary and how it compares to others in their job description. Guild leadership will also assist members with advice in how to best prepare those requests.

The data also reveals that while the Post-Dispatch is almost evenly split on employee gender, we lack racial diversity. The guild hopes management will take concrete steps, such as advertising with and recruiting from groups that represent minority journalists, such as NAHJ, NABJ and others, to create a more diverse workplace and provide perspectives that better reflect St. Louis.

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National presidential election is looming for The NewsGuild

Mar 6, 2019 by

Los Angeles Times activist Jon Schleuss is running against incumbent Bernie Lunzer for president of The NewsGuild.

Bernie Lunzer

Members in good standing of the United Media Guild — those members who were paying dues at some point in the previous quarter — will eligible to vote by mail in the upcoming national election. Ballots will be sent to their homes.

The UMG executive committee voted not to endorse either candidate, adhering to the precedent set the last time TNG held a contested election for president. (Lunzer defeated incumbent Linda Foley that time around.)

We encourage all our members to learn more about these candidates and make an informed decision on which one should lead our national union forward.

 

Over the years the UMG has worked closely with Lunzer and his staff in Washington D.C. on a variety of issues, including organizing new units, bargaining first contracts and enforcing our current agreements.

UMG vice president David Carson got to know Schleuss while assisting the successful Los Angeles Times organizing drive. UMG president Jeff Gordon, a TNG regional vice president, spoke extensively with Schleuss and other new unit activists at the TNG Sector Conference in Orlando.

Schleuss is stressing the need to improve member engagement, upgrade TNG’s communication capability and provide more support for local leaders.

You can learn more about his campaign on his website.

Meanwhile Lunzer can point to TNG’s unprecedented organizing successes in recent years and his decades of labor leadership at the local and national levels.

You can learn more about his campaign on his website.

Schleuss will be in St. Louis Monday, March 11, to host a lunch with UMG members at 11:30 a.m. at Missouri Bar and Grill. We encourage members to stop by to learn more about the critical issues facing TNG and our parent union, CWA, in this era of corporate cutbacks.

 

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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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