Archive | March, 2012

Non-newsroom Bargaining: Session Eight

28 Mar

Guild and Post representatives met on March 27.

Management provided additional detail used to compare current call center costs to outside bids received on the inbound and outbound work. The union’s bargaining committee is working on a counter proposal that will be based on the retention of that work. The proposal will be presented during the next bargaining session scheduled for April 10.

Management presented a proposal to eliminate the positions of Building Maintenance Mechanic, Machinist and Electrician I, II and III. Under their proposal:

  • The eliminated positions would be replaced with one position titled Production Maintenance Technician.
  • The number of positions would be reduced from 20 to 16.
  • Current employees would need to apply for the new position.
  • Current employees who are hired would be grandfathered at their current pay rate.
  • Current employees who are hired would be placed on a 90 day probation period that could be extended 45 days.
  • Those employees who don’t apply or are not selected for the position and those who don’t make it through probation would be paid severance.
  • New hires in the position would start at $23 an hour and top scale would be $25 an hour.

The union’s bargaining committee will seek out input from affected employees to develop a counter proposal. The issue will not be addressed at the next scheduled meeting.

Kathy Rudolph
Sam Johnson
Maureen Shively
Michelle Miller
Tom Peterson
Laurie Faliano
Paulette Shrefler
Tony Mulligan

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More Layoffs Hit The Denver Post

26 Mar

ON MARCH 23, Denver Post management announced the elimination of 11 more positions.

Five metro home delivery districts will be eliminated resulting in the layoff of five district managers and five assistant district managers. The two-week window for volunteers in those positions to resign or retire with severance ends April 6

The effective dates of voluntary resignations or layoffs will be spread out. They will occur on April 23, May 21 and June 18 as the districts are eliminated.

The company also announced it is eliminating the Viva photographer position.

Project Thunderdome: Coming To A Theater Near You

23 Mar

A LONE NEWS-GATHERING ORGANIZATION SEARCHING FOR A NEW BUSINESS MODEL ... A TRIBE OF LOST PUBLISHERS WAITING FOR A HERO ... IN AN INDUSTRY BATTLING TO SURVIVE, THEY FACE ADVERTISERS DETERMINED TO STRAY.
HOLD OUT FOR JOHN PATON. THIS IS HIS GREATEST ADVENTURE.

 
AS PROJECT THUNDERDOME moves closer to becoming a reality, let’s take a look at it. Always a good place to start:

WHAT IS IT?

In a nutshell, it’s centralizing production of non-local content. In a post titled News Media’s New Role As Both Medium And Messenger In A World Of Partnerships on his blog in December, Digital First CEO John Paton wrote:

By centralizing all non-local content creation and production we are able to reduce costs while putting more resources back into local coverage increasing what is already an important competitive advantage.

Digital First Editor in Chief Jim Brady, who is heading up the project, put it this way to Street Fight in October:

We can’t have people at 18 different papers finding, editing and paginating a story about the war in Afghanistan, or a movie review or a Wimbledon roundup. We have to find a way to provide that information centrally to our papers so that they can focus on local issues and coverage.

That centrally produced content is for both print and online. As Brady told the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers:

… We’re creating a centralized team to produce that content for all of the local papers and their websites; that will free up a lot of the resources in the building to go back out on the streets and report, as opposed to doing production work.

WHEN WILL IT START OPERATING?

Now, for parts of it. As Brady said in a Q&A with Street Fight on March 13:

What is the status of Thunderdome?

We’re starting to roll out some verticals like transportation. We’re going to launch a health section in the next couple of days. We’re going to roll out one a month for the next six months or so. We’re starting to hire staff who are helping get it up and running, but it’s not in its full form yet.

How far along are you in the transformation? Can you give a percentage?

Thunderdome is going to be a huge part of what we do in the next few months even if it’s not fully rolled out. A lot of the products that we’re going to build out of Thunderdome are already in play and in the process of being built. We’re bringing in a new content management system that’s already in half the JRC papers and it will be in the MediaNews papers before long. What we have is a significant amount of large, game-changing projects in the pipeline right now. In terms of percentage, I don’t know, I think we still have 75% of the way to go before all of those things are out the door, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the last six months and in the last three especially.

And Project Thunderdome apparently is located in New York City.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT JOBS?

According to Paton, not much, as those people formerly in production roles would be reassigned to local work. That’s just counting bodies — it sounds like job duties could change for some people. As he told the American Journalism Review:

We have hundreds and hundreds of people in production. If you were producing 18 dailies centrally, you’d be doing it with less people and could then repurpose them back into the community and create more local content.

HASN’T THIS BEEN DONE BEFORE?

Yes. As Jon Cooper, a vice president with Digital First, told Nieman Journalism Lab:

Folks have done production hubs; folks have done content bureaus or content sharing, but what we’re really looking to do is to empower local journalism. And part of that is to remove the roadblocks to small operations.

How The Denver Post fits into the puzzle isn’t wholly clear. I’m sure details will be forthcoming.

And of course, some are less optimistic, such as this comment on Street Fight:

Thunderdome sounds like an attempt to make generic content to reward their masters at Alden Global Capital. Lay off as many people as you can, create canned content and then, well, we never got around to local coverage because its, well, been a tough economy. That’s been the Media News playbook for years. John Paton just wants to do it without all that expensive newspaper (and people).

In the meantime, sit back, relax and cue up a little Tina Turner.

Newsroom Bargaining: Session Seven

22 Mar

DENVER POST NEWSROOM Guild representatives and management met March 21 to continue collective bargaining talks.

Denver Post Editor Greg Moore joined us to give us his perspective on the current situation and the future of our newsroom. He emphasized that we need to dramatically change what we do. Revenue is in decline and legacy costs continue, resulting in layoffs going on not just in the newsroom, but throughout the company.

Two areas that were mentioned as needing to be addressed during bargaining are the possible collapse of job titles and layoff language. Collapsing some job titles would enable workers to do multiple tasks. For instance, a reporter may be asked to write a story, edit a colleague’s story and post still someone else’s story online. Or we may need more people who can do both copy editing and design. Greg stressed that he was throwing out possibilities and wants to hear all ideas.

Regarding layoff language, Greg stated that our current language keeps the company from moving quickly and that our competitors are more flexible in responding to a quickly changing business climate.

We then asked Greg to summarize some of the other corporate strategies we have been hearing about. He gave us a brief rundown on Digital First’s Project Thunderdome and spoke about regional hubs, similar to what has been done at the Bay Area News Group. The real key, he emphasized, is cost. For instance, while we have the quality and talent here, we must have an effective cost structure if a design desk is to be housed in Denver, Greg said. But he doesn’t know if we can match the efficiencies of other areas.

After Greg left, Missy Miller, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Labor Relations, reiterated that revenues continue to decline, but that we can’t just chop away at our current structure. We need to step back, she said, and reassess. She suggested that we might ask how we would build the company if we were starting from scratch today. The current structure is not the newsroom of the future, she said, and emphasized again the need for flexibility and cost effectiveness.

Our next bargaining session has been scheduled for March 27.

As always, feel free to leave your comments below or speak to any of the bargaining committee members.

Thomas McKay
Sara Burnett
Kieran Nicholson
Jim Ludvik
Kyle Wagner
Kevin Hamm
Tony Mulligan

Newsroom Layoffs At The Denver Post

21 Mar

AS YOU KNOW, yesterday three people in the newsroom were laid off. The layoffs were a business decision made by Denver Post management and were conducted according to the contract. Also, 11 people have been laid off in non-newsroom positions over the last couple of weeks, and more layoffs are expected there.

We wish them all the best.

The last layoffs in the newsroom were conducted in the early 1980s.

If you have questions, please talk to a Guild representative.

Michael Roberts at Westword wrote a piece on it — Penny Parker, Mike Littwin laid off at Denver Post: More changes coming? — and ColoradoPols.com has More Layoffs Hit Declining Denver Post. Bear in mind that neither source has any insight into Denver Post management decisions.

Leave a comment below, if you’d like.

Update: A fourth person, part time copy editor Lorrie Guttman, was laid off yesterday as well.

Bring Back The 40-Hour Work Week

19 Mar

THIS COURTESY OF Jim Ludvik …

From Salon.com, March 14:

If you’re lucky enough to have a job right now, you’re probably doing everything possible to hold onto it. If the boss asks you to work 50 hours, you work 55. If she asks for 60, you give up weeknights and Saturdays, and work 65.

Odds are that you’ve been doing this for months, if not years, probably at the expense of your family life, your exercise routine, your diet, your stress levels and your sanity. You’re burned out, tired, achy and utterly forgotten by your spouse, kids and dog. But you push on anyway, because everybody knows that working crazy hours is what it takes to prove that you’re “passionate” and “productive” and “a team player” — the kind of person who might just have a chance to survive the next round of layoffs.

This is what work looks like now. It’s been this way for so long that most American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

>snip<

The most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is that, while it was the unions that pushed it, business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision.

>snip<

These were the early morning-in-America Reagan years. The unions — for 150 years, the guardians of the 40-hour week — were falling under a conservative onslaught; and in their place, the new cult of the entrepreneur was ascendant. All the old paternalistic contracts between employers and employees were torn up. Where companies once hoped to hire people young and nurture their careers through to a pensioned retirement — a lifelong relationship that required managers to take the long view about how to keep their workforces sustainably healthy and happy — young Gen Xers were being given a 401k and told to expect to change jobs every three to five years. Even while employers were demanding new levels of “passion” and commitment, they were also abdicating their old obligation to look after the long-term well-being of their employees.

>snip<

The original short-work movement in 19th-century Britain demanded “eight for work, eight for sleep and eight for what we will.” It’s still a formula that works.

>MORE

Non-newsroom Bargaining: Session Seven

7 Mar

DENVER NEWSPAPER GUILD and Denver Post representatives met March 7.

Management began the meeting by explaining they have received six responses to their request for proposals from outsourcing companies bidding on the inbound and outbound customer service call center work. The bid the company appears most interested in is from a call center in Honduras. Union representatives questioned management about the bids and their outsourcing proposal and requested additional information to evaluate the proposal. Based on management’s estimates, the outsourcing of call center work would save the company more than $400,000 per year. Under management’s current outsourcing proposal, they estimate two full-time and three part-time union-covered positions would remain to handle email and escalated calls.

Richard Rosenblatt, the attorney who represents our union, attended the session. As he had not been at earlier bargaining sessions, management recapped their position on the issues being discussed. In reviewing their proposal, the company informed us they were pulling their proposal to move finance work to MediaNews Group, but explained the issue may come up again in the future. For the first time, they added home delivery to the list, explaining that they want to discuss costs including wages and mileage reimbursement. Management narrowed down what they are looking for regarding layoffs out of seniority order to advertising and related positions, such as sales support.

The next bargaining session has not been scheduled.

Kathy Rudolph
Sam Johnson
Maureen Shively
Michelle Miller
Tom Peterson
Laurie Faliano
Paulette Shrefler
Tony Mulligan

Bargaining Update: Current Contracts Extended

7 Mar

ON MARCH 6, representatives of the Guild (both Newsroom and Non-newsroom) and Mailers bargaining units signed agreements with The Post that ensure the extension of our current contracts while bargaining continues. The contracts were set to expire March 10.

This means all provisions of our contracts, except the company match to the 401(k), will remain in force until the effective dates of new collective bargaining agreements. If we fail to reach agreement and bargaining reaches an impasse, the terms of our current contracts will continue for five full weeks after impasse is reached. Impasse means all subjects covered by the contract have been fully bargained, but the parties failed to reach an agreement.

We agreed to the contract extensions following the advice of the attorney representing the Guild and Mailers. Our attorney advised that we go along with the extensions to ensure all other contract provisions remain in force while bargaining continues.

You can find the existing contracts here: Newsroom, Non-newsroom.

The Search For A New Business Model

5 Mar

THE PEW RESEARCH Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released the findings from a fairly extensive study about newspapers’ efforts to find their footing as the business model changes. Following is a very small sampling from the long report.

From the project’s site, journalism.org, March 5, 2012:

A new study, which combines detailed proprietary data from individual newspapers with in-depth interviews at more than a dozen major media companies, finds that the search for a new revenue model to revive the newspaper industry is making only halting progress but that some individual newspapers are faring much better than the industry overall and may provide signs of a path forward.

>snip<

The industry is inhibited by several obstacles that executives themselves candidly acknowledge. One involves the difficulty of changing the behavior of people trained in the ways of a mature and monopolistic industry. Still another is the unavoidable fact that the part of the newspaper industry that is growing, digital, continues to provide only a small part of the revenue, while the part that is shrinking, print, provides most of the money — a paradox that is difficult to navigate and hard to resist. One pervasive feeling is that 15 years into the digital transition, executives still feel they are in the early stages of figuring out a how to proceed.

“We have all these [new] products we are working on that we believe are going to deliver results that are part of our sustainability,” said one executive. “But we need to eat today.”

Another senior executive, capturing a sentiment articulated by many of his peers, talked about a culture of “inertia” that made change more difficult.

Another executive told us bluntly, “There’s no doubt we’re going out of business right now.”

The problem, he explained, is the dilemma that faces many trying to innovate inside older industries. If you changed your company and did not succeed, that could hasten the end of the enterprise. “There might be a 90% chance you’ll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10% chance you might find the new model,” he said. “No one is willing to take that chance.”

>snip<

The good news for the newspaper industry in this data is that the percentage of digital ad revenue is growing at a double-digit pace. Overall, for the last full year for which papers had data, digital revenue at the papers studied grew 19% on average.

The bad news is that print ad sales, which still account for 92% of the overall ad revenue of the papers that provided data, fell by an average of 9%.[1] Thus the actual dollar gains were outnumbered by losses by a factor of 7-to-1 for those papers. These tallies of overall print and digital ad revenues included the last year from which the papers had complete data (2010).

We found that the highest rate of annual digital ad revenue growth occurred at those papers with circulations of 50,000 and above. At those papers, digital revenue grew 20% on average.

>snip<

In our interviews, we asked executives to identify the biggest internal and institutional obstacle at their companies to forging a successful business model.

The response was nearly unanimous. Officials at 10 of the 13 companies said their biggest challenge was the continuing tension between people in their organizations who are advocating a more aggressive digital approach and those more aligned with the legacy tradition. In essence, they described a conflict between going faster and going slower. (One other executive didn’t cite this as a problem at his particular company, but said it was the crucial issue for the industry at large.)

In other words, there remains a continuing disagreement over how to proceed.

“Probably the most difficult thing is to change a corporate culture because you don’t really have the power to do it,” noted one executive. “You can change CEOs, executive VPs, digital VPs. You can wave this magic wand all you want. But at the end of the day, the troops in the field hunker down. From our company, and I would venture for other organizations as well, the most difficult thing to do is change it. “

>snip<

The core cultural issue, executives told us, is the tension between the old ways and the new ways — and some of that stems from newspaper leadership that came of age in the days of monopoly newspapers and 20% profit margins.

>snip<

Culture change is a huge issue for the industry, warned another official who added that it’s happening at a slower pace than people think.

At one company, an official colorfully described the challenge of implementing culture change across the organization as “a contact sport, one collision at a time.”

One major reason why these collisions may still be occurring is that, despite all the travails, the print newspaper still provides the overwhelming majority of the revenue at every paper examined. Thus some of the resistance to change, executives acknowledged, was based on practicality. “We spend 90% of our time talking about 10% of our revenue,” one said. At his company, he explained, they focused much of their energy on a digital model that still wasn’t paying the bills.

John R. Kimberly, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school who was interviewed as part of the research, says these internal cultural tensions are “not at all atypical of industries that are undergoing disruptive change…The unhappy saga at Kodak, that’s a great example.”

“The problem is not hard to understand at one level,” Kimberly said. “You have developed a set of skills that have been valued and all of a sudden, this isn’t so valued anymore.” The pace of change at each news organization, he said, will largely depend on “who are going to be the leaders and who are going to be the followers.”

>snip<

The differences over pricing reinforce probably the strongest underlying finding of this study. The people who run the newspaper industry are unsure of where it is heading or what it will look like.

These executives stand on the front lines of a business that is also a civic institution, that has a larger purpose than making money, and that prospered for so long that its success was an impediment to innovation.

All that has been radically transformed in less in than a decade. The high water mark for newspaper employment and profitability came in 2000, a mere 12 years ago. The change since then is breathtaking by any measure, and it was hastened by the worst recession in 80 years, a recession that for newspapers has not eased.

The leadership that remains in these companies is trying to innovate while also protecting the old business that pays most of the bills, and each year newer technologies pose yet more challenges. It should be no surprise, then, that the dominant perception about the future is uncertainty.

>MORE

 

Selected tweets about the Pew study from Steve Buttry’s Twitter feed (March 5, links go to Pew story):

  • Most papers “are still largely print first operations” in sales. #DigitalFirst sales staffs “are a distinct minority.” bit.ly/yOXUiB
  • Hmmm, one paper had 63% digital ad revenue growth, another 50%. Wonder what company they might represent? bit.ly/yOXUiB
  • This Pew graphic headline is wrong: “Digital Gains Can’t Make Up for Print Losses.” They can. They just haven’t yet. bit.ly/yOXUiB
  • Not if they’re stacking digital dimes. MT @kevglobal: zite.to/xxUWvH < Pew: for every digital $, papers are losing 7 in print

 

Other takes on the Pew study:

Benefit Concert For Andrea Briggs April 4

5 Mar

A BENEFIT CONCERT for former Denver Post reporter Bill Briggs’ daughter, Andrea, who is recovering from a serious auto accident, will be staged at the Mercury Cafe on April 4 at 7 p.m.

It will feature Johnny Hickman, lead guitar player and co-founder of the band Cracker. Denver musician Olivia Rudeen, daughter of former Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post editor Mike Rudeen, will open the concert.

Full details on the concert, and reports of Andrea’s progress, are at andreaswayback.com.

To read an earlier post about Andrea, click here.

— Jeff Leib