Blood on the newsroom floor: And lots of it


The bodies are falling fast, as American journalism goes through another round of contractions. We’ve also got another closing of a non-profit, and allegations of censorship and of age discrimination in layoffs.

The Philadelphia toll: 37 journalists

We have two stories out of Philly, our first and last in today’s roundup.

Here’s the first bad news from the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, dated 15 February:

Newsroom combination at Inquirer, Daily News, Philly.com to result in elimination of 37 positions.

Dear Guild member,

This afternoon Guild leaders met with Philadelphia Media Network officials including the editors of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com to hear the company’s plans for “One Newsroom.”

These plans include the devastating reduction in force of 37 positions.

The company identified that its combined newsroom functions could result in layoffs in the following classifications: Reporters, Writing Reporters, Rewrite, News Artists, Photographers, Photo Printers, Copy Editors/Readers, Make-Up Persons, Desk Assistants, Cartoonists, Editorial Writers, Editorial Clerks and Philly.com Multi Media Content Producers.

Before any individuals would be targeted for layoff, the company is first instituting a Voluntary Separation Program. Details of the buyout package will be distributed soon by Human Resources. The more members who step up for voluntary buyouts, the less involuntary newsroom layoffs there will be.

The buyout window is open from Feb. 16, 2012 to Feb. 29, 2012. On March 1, 2012 PMN will notify the Guild of any members who have been targeted for layoff in any category. As per our contract layoffs in any category would be handled by seniority with the least senior person being first affected. In most cases, part-time employees would be laid-off before the dismissal of full-timers in their group.

The last day of work for either volunteers or those laid off would be March 31, 2012.

The company’s decision to decimate our already-shrunken ranks is hard to comprehend given the ever-competitive 24/7 nature of today’s media landscape.

However, PMN has the contractual right to reduce the work force, and the Guild will work to make sure any job eliminations are conducted in accordance with our Collective Bargaining Agreement.

If you plan to apply for the voluntary separation program, you are to do so through Human Resources, but please first contact Guild Executive Director Bill Ross at the Guild office 215-928-0118, cell 267-240-8540 or BRoss@local-10.com.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

In solidarity,

Dan Gross, President,
Bill Ross, Executive Director,
and the Executive Board of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America Local 38010

New Haven Register: 30+ press operators

From Victoria Sanchez of The New Journal, New Haven Connecticut:

1981. The New Haven Register moved from a small office on Orange and Audobon to 40 Sargent Drive, a former shirt factory. Busloads of people came to tour the new state-of-the-art Goss Metroliner printing presses. New Haven was the industry showroom. Rockwell International, the company that manufactured Goss Metroliners, featured the Register’s pressmen on the cover of its 1982 catalogue with the headline “Winning Team in New Haven.” In the picture, you can see the men’s reflections in the gleaming floors.

Today, the floors are black and slippery, covered in ink. According to the Register’s press manager, Frank Malicki, the custodians stopped cleaning the floors about three or four years ago, which is how he knew the Journal Register East Company (the Register’s corporate owner, known as the JRC) would close down the printing press. “How did I know? The same thing happened on Orange Street.” Thirty-odd jobs at the press will be outsourced to the Hartford Courant’s plant over the course of four weeks. The press’s last run will be on March 4. Malicki started working for the Register as a sixteen-year-old delivery boy in 1970. When I asked him about the future, he said, “I don’t know. I need a job.”

This closure is one more sign of the transition from print to digital media, which has thrown the traditional news industry into chaos. But the Register has been struggling for a long time. Since the Jackson brothers, Richard and Lionel, sold the newspaper in 1986, there have been three corporate takeovers, a bankruptcy filing, and dozens of layoffs. The 200,000-square-foot building at 40 Sargent Drive is now mostly empty. Last August, the trouble also affected editorial management. Longtime editor Jack Kramer, a thirty-year veteran, was replaced by Matt DeRienzo.

Read the rest.

Indianapolis Star: 6-8

This move results from one of the hottest trends in corporate journalism, consolidation of editing functions from several locations in one newsroom..

Stepping up the workload on a smaller number of editors looks good on a spreadsheet, but it transforms key decision to people with no ties to the community, adding yet more alyer of alienation between a troubled medium and its readership.

From Al Yates of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild:

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild has won pay raises for most of its workers but was unable to stop The Indianapolis Star’s plans for outsourcing, which could ship up to eight jobs out the state.

The Guild’s contract negotiating team reached a tentative agreement Thursday with representatives of The Indianapolis Star in a deal which must still be ratified in a vote by the Guild’s membership.

The agreement was the definition of a compromise.

In an industry still cutting jobs and cutting pay, the deal would award the Guild’s workers raises of 2 to 4 percent, with the highest raises going to some of the Guild’s lowest paid workers. But it was only a small step toward restoring the 10 percent pay cuts the Guild took two years ago.

Despite making it a focal point of the Guild’s “Save the Star” campaign, the Guild’s team found that outsourcing the page design work was an area where The Star was unyielding. We made a strong case — in leafletting efforts, a street protest, a media campaign and at the bargaining table — that this could damage the local news product. But it became clear that this was an edict from Gannett, The Star’s parent company, and that the quality of the product was a secondary consideration to saving money.

The Guild knew this was an uphill battle going in. We were told this was one we couldn’t win. But we felt it was worth trying. And if Gannett attempts future outsourcing in Indianapolis, they can be assured we will wage an even more ardent campaign to resist such an effort.

At present, The Star hasn’t specified exactly what pages will be designed in Louisville or how many journalists in Indianapolis will be displaced. The last estimate we were given was six to eight.

Read the rest.

Massachusetts massacre: 64 Wooster press operators

Another economic move even practiced by family owned papers is the outsourcing of printing. And when chains owns a number of papers in relatively close proximity, printing in one locale allows individual papers to shed one of their most cost-and-equipment-intensive functions.

From the Worcester Massachusetts  Telegram & Gazette:

The Telegram & Gazette has decided to shift most printing operations from its plant in Millbury to The Boston Globe’s facility in Dorchester in a cost-saving move that will cause 64 layoffs.

Though the T&G will be printed nearly 50 miles away from Central Massachusetts, T&G Publisher Bruce Gaultney said deadlines will not change and morning delivery of the paper will not be delayed.

Mr. Gaultney, in a memo to employees yesterday, said the move will “create efficiencies.”

The layoffs include 48 full-time and 16 part-time employees. All full-time employees and some part-time employees will receive severance packages. The job cuts represent 14 percent of the T&G’s workforce and more than one-third of the company’s printing facility workforce.

“This was an extremely difficult decision because we all know the excellent contributions our co-workers have made to the company over the years,” Mr. Gaultney told employees. “I sincerely appreciate their dedication to the important task of printing the newspaper every day of the year.”

The Globe will begin printing the Sunday Telegram and all weekday editions of the T&G sometime in the second quarter. The T&G will continue printing its Saturday paper, specialty products and the newspapers of seven customers that use the Millbury facility.

Read the rest.

A Chicago non-profit grinds to a halt

Non-profits have been hailed as a vital part of filling the hole as newsroom staffs plummet in newspapers across the country, pofferuing in-depth and regional story coverage lost as newspapers abandon regional bureaus and focus on more immediate stories.

2012′s already brought the merger of two San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits, the Center for Investigative Reporting and The Bay Citizen, cause by the former’s loss of nearly half its funding.

Now funding cuts have struck another non-profit, which has closed its doors, maybe for good. We didn’t find a total for employees left jobless.

From Brian Stelter of the New York Times:

The Chicago News Cooperative, a nonprofit news organization that provided news to The New York Times and tried to compete online with The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times, will suspend operations the week of Feb. 26, its editor, James O’Shea, said.

The decision came after the main supporter of the cooperative, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, changed the types of grants that it could quality for, effectively reducing its potential financing. The news organization’s second-biggest source of funds, The Times, was then asked to contribute more, but both parties concluded that “did not make economic sense,” Mr. O’Shea said in a telephone interview Sunday.

The Times, which twice a week has been including two pages of the cooperative’s content in its Chicago edition, will stop doing so at the end of the month. Mr. O’Shea said he was grateful to The Times for supporting the cooperative since its conception. “We would have never gotten off the ground without them,” he said.

>snip<

Mr. O’Shea informed the staff of the suspension on Friday. He said he was trying to find financing to continue education coverage.

Read the rest.

And then there’s age discrimination

While the mantra of the new newspaper is pandering to the immediate, good journalism has always depended on situating events in a broader context of the community and its history.

Newsrooms benefit from a multigenerational staff, with younger reporters attuned to news that matters for their peers, and older reporters serving as both representatives of their own generations and as resources for helping younger reporters contextual their stories and steering them towards contacts and resources gained over the course of decades of experience.

But in today’s downsizing world of journalism, where corporate bean counters rule the roost, older reporters are the first to go because of their larger paychecks, higher insurance costs, and accumulated pensions.

So it’s not surprising to hear that age discrimination is alleged in litigation filed by a brace of discarded editors.

From Dave Malaska of City Beat in Cincinnati, Ohio:

As The Enquirer staff braces for another reduction in staff, the paper and its parent company might not yet have seen the full fallout of its decision to cut staff last year. Two of the newspaper’s former editors, Joe Fenton and Cathy Ruetter, have filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the newspaper and The Gannett Co. that soon could snowball into a much larger legal action.

According to Fenton and Reutter’s attorney, Brian Gillian, the case is headed back to court this week where he will seek a motion for leave to amend.

“I would anticipate that there will end up being at least three and perhaps as many as four or five additional plaintiffs added to the case,” he says.

Gillian declined to comment further, adding only that the original complaint spells out his clients’ case “very clearly.”

In both cases, according to the original complaint, the plaintiffs — along with several other individuals The Enquirer laid off in February 2011 — were targeted because of their seniority. All were nearly 50 years old or older, while younger staffers — some who had been hired long after those let go — were kept on. In some cases, the newspaper ended up hiring younger people to assume their jobs, the complaint states.

Gannett representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Read the rest.

And then there’s that censorship

Today’s new corporate media owners are less bound by old rules in which reporters were shielded to some extent from pressures from the advertising department and the owner’s suite.

Rupert Murdoch played a leading role in fulfilling Ronald Reagan’s exhortation to “Tear down that wall.”

The latest example comes from Philadelphia, our final entry and bookend to the first..

From Philadelphia City Paper:

“As The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com have gone up for sale once again, we watched with dismay as our own coverage of the process was compromised and censored,” according to a newsroom petition that began circulating last night. “Our employers promise this won’t happen again. That must be the case.”

The last two weeks have been a harrowing ride for Inquirer and Daily News reporters — and a half-blind one for readers.

Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) is in negotiations with a group led by former mayor and governor Ed Rendell, South Jersey Democratic Party boss George Norcross and Flyers owner Ed Snider. The prospect of such powerful owners has reporters worried about editorial independence — especially after top management censored a Feb. 7 blog post by the Daily News’ David Gambacorta reporting that mega-developer Bart Blatstein had formed a rival group intending to bid on PMN.

Gambacorta’s post was soon replaced with a mysterious statement: “The company is not in discussions with Bart Blatstein” or his group.

PMN vice president Mark Block defended the move, stating that Gambacorta’s reporting was bad (it wasn’t) and, bizarrely, that the post was a “press release” rather than “an original-content story.” (On Feb. 9 philanthropist Ray Perelman announced that he, too, wanted to explore a PMN bid but was blocked from doing so.)

Editors warned journalists that they could lose their jobs if they posted about the censorship on Twitter or Facebook.

Read the rest.

There’s a lot more at here Poynter’s MediaWire, including the full statement, its signatories, and the corporate response.

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