December 18, 2017 Last Updated 8:16 am

GateHouse Media reaches deal with NewsGuild-CWA; Condé Nast layoffs reported

Morning Brief: It is always tough to negotiate a contract when times are tough for the industry, but avoiding a strike is the goal when neither side can win from industrial action

There are two weeks left in the year, with this week being the last week when the majority of readers are still at work. A number of readers reached out wanting to contribute predictions or trends for the new year if I was going to have such a feature. I recommended instead that they contribute a guest column and last week received a group of columns which I will feature this week.

One column reviews what the author believes was the biggest moments in advertising in 2017 and so we will start the week with that column.

One story I missed last week was that involving GateHouse Media. The company, if you recall, was reportedly about to buy the Boston Herald after that paper filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It also was in negotiations with the NewsGuild-CWA which represent its employees at 16 of its newspapers. Last week it reached a deal with the union that includes a modest pay increase.

I know a little something about negotiating a union contract at a newspaper, having been chosen by the ad staff at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner to participate in negotiations with Hearst. We were in a tough position because the paper was losing money, but inflation was still a thing in the mid-eighties, so employees were receiving raises in order to retain them. Our contract called for raises to be handed out twice a year, something unheard of today. In addition, if you were a valuable employee, like an ad salesperson (as I was) you might even get a third raise during the year based on merit.

To make a long story short, we successfully negotiated that contract and there were modest raises won. But… a couple of years later Hearst closed the Herald Examiner, proving that winning a modest raise is not a sign that the newspapers are actually making money.

The NewsGuild-CWA was able to win a 1 percent raise in 2018 and 1.75 percent raise in 2019, as well as a guarantee that health insurance coverage would remain at current levels in 2018 without any additional costs passed on to employees. The two parties will continue their negotiations to address other issues in the contract.

The NewsGuild-CWA:

Guild Reaches First-of-its-Kind Agreement with GateHouse

“By negotiating a single agreement for 16 newspapers, we have significantly enhanced workers’ power now and for the future,” said Bernie Lunzer, NewsGuild president. “Rather than negotiating separately in small groups, our members are facing a common adversary together. This agreement provides a great platform for future negotiations.

GateHouse employees in Utica marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2017, by reminding the company that “Democracy Depends on Journalism” and urging management to “Invest in Us.”
“Although the 1 percent and 1.75 percent pay increases are modest, they are the first contractual raises most of the employees will get in as many as 10 or 11 years,” Lunzer said. When bargaining began, GateHouse declared it would offer no wage increases.

When we were negotiating that contract with Hearst back in the ’80s the talks reached a point where it was clear that we might not reach an agreement. What to do then? Strike? That would have been disastrous — the paper, after all, was still trying to recover from the seven year strike that had occurred in the late ’60s to ’70s.

Nonetheless, union representatives called a meeting and recommended that we authorize a strike. As they said at the time, no one wants a strike, but without the threat of a strike there was no way progress would be made in the talks.

That meeting was contentious, but in the end the employees overwhelmingly authorized a strike should an impasse occur in the talks. In the end, we didn’t win much in the talks, but when the time came the union recommended that the employees approve the contract. Many were confused by what appeared to be a reversal, but it was simply a recognition that one cannot get blood from a stone, and the members again overwhelmingly went along.

NationalUnion of Journalists:

Journalists in Swindon vote for industrial action over pay

Journalists at the Swindon Advertiser have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over poor pay and the failure of Newsquest to meet the NUJ’s 2017 pay claim, saying they are among the lowest paid on a daily title.

In a statement the Swindon NUJ chapel said:

“By voting overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action, journalists on the Swindon Advertiser have shown their frustration at the low pay which reporters have to put up with and the refusal of management at the Newsquest title to take part in meaningful negotiations.

“Other Newsquest centres, such at Newport and Bolton, have gone some way to address the poor pay of their journalists by giving above-inflation rate pay rises this year. A negotiated settlement between Newsquest and the NUJ in Swindon had not been reached.

“A senior reporter in Swindon gets £19-20,000 and the chapel believes Swindon Advertiser reporters are now among the lowest paid on a daily title in the UK. The Advertiser has already lost one junior reporter from journalism because of the dreadful rate of pay here – about £17,500 for a trainee – showing that these rates of pay are a false economy by the company.

“In August a pay increase of 1.7 per cent was imposed for those earning up to £20,000 and 1.5 per cent for those above. There was no increase at all in 2016, living costs continue to rise steeply in Swindon as inflation continues to cut into journalists’ living standards.

“Difficult trading conditions are repeatedly given by management as the reason for failing to address the issue of poor pay, but members have no reason to believe that trading conditions are any better in Bolton and Newport than they are in Swindon – indeed Newsquest’s own tables for print and digital figures consistently feature Swindon near the top.

“If the current redundancy proposals for roles in Swindon of content managers, news editor and social media and web editor go ahead, the workload of reporters will increase significantly, an issue which management is refusing to discuss with union members.

“The proposal sadly shows that no matter how much experience you have, or how successful you are, Newsquest doesn’t value its staff and puts making savings above the reputation of its titles.”

Of the 16 eligible for the ballot, 12 voted yes for industrial action, the number of individuals voting no was zero and there were no spoiled papers.

One place were the government appears to be taking the plight of local journalism seriously is in Québec. Canada has lost a large group of community newspapers just recently when Torstar and Postmedia Network agreed to sway newspaper properties, then announced that most of the acquired papers would be shuttered.

It was an awful, cynical deal, but what can one do?

The Globe and Mail, Robert Everett-Green:

Quebec offers plan to help newspapers while Ottawa does nothing

In Quebec, all francophone media are instruments of language preservation. From that perspective alone, it’s not surprising to see the Quebec government in recent days announce two separate measures to deal with the crisis in print journalism – while the federal government continues to do nothing.

On Dec. 4, Marie Montpetit, Quebec’s rookie Culture and Communications Minister, said the province is spending $24.4-million over five years to help community papers survive and build their digital platforms. Another $12-million will go toward improving recycling by the papers.

On Thursday, Dominique Anglade, Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation, said Investissement Québec is making a $10-million loan to Mr. Cauchon’s Groupe Capitales Médias (GCM), as its share in a $26-million investment by the company in the digital side of its publishing. Rival Quebecor Inc. immediately attacked the deal as “flagrant favouritism,” with president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau tweeting darkly about “the Liberal connection.”

…When federal Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who holds a similar language responsibility, presented her Creative Canada policy in Montreal on Dec. 8, all she had to offer Quebec news publishers was a “bravo” to those already making conspicuous efforts to go digital. This was just 11 days after a mass closing of dozens of Canadian papers that put 291 people out of work.

We have yet to hear officially from Time Inc. regarding their sale of Golf Magazine, but that should come this week, one assumes. One also assumes that Condé Nast will not put out a release regarding its plans for layoffs and editorial consolidation of times, two things the NY Post have reported.

But things are not going well at Condé Nast, apparently, though we continue to hear print advocates say that magazines are thriving. This kind of propaganda is not helpful to anyone, but I suppose it continues because these people, who don’t actually work in the magazine industry, must do so to insure their place on the agendas of future trade shows and events.

NY Post, Alexandra Steigrad:

Condé Nast to announce layoffs after facing ‘terrible year’

Following what sources have called a “terrible year” in which Condé lost about $100 million, the publisher is poised to take a scalpel to its corporate side, which includes its digital business. The company’s entertainment division, Condé Nast Entertainment, is also said to be under review. This follows a year of two steep rounds of layoffs in the ballpark of 200 jobs in total.

Insiders said slashing digital jobs in an environment where that sector is growing is indicative of broader turmoil. A rep from the company acknowledged impending job cuts, but said they were linked to the changing media landscape.

“Our goal is to modernize and align our corporate functions to best support our brands and the company’s changing needs,” she said, without commenting on the number of cuts to come.

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