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New Journal Register Co. Owner Aims to Carve Up Contracts

28 Mar

wikimedia.orgBALKING AT CONTRACT terms they call outrageous, some 175 Journal Register Company employees in Michigan voted to lead a boycott of the papers [Detroit Free Press].

Since early March, the Detroit Newspaper Guild has been in negotiations with 21st CMH Acquisition Co., the Alden Global Capital unit that received approval last week to buy Journal Register Co.’s assets out of bankruptcy.

Poynter printed a Guild bulletin outlining the company’s demands, which include a 15 percent pay cut and more than doubling employees’ health insurance premiums, according to the Detroit Free Press.

From the Detroit Free Press story:

Louis Mleczko, president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, which represents employees at the Macomb Daily and the Daily Tribune, said the employment terms are outrageous. He said Macomb Daily employees took a pension freeze and a 12.5% pay cut four years ago and have gotten just 2.5% back.

“They took tremendous sacrifice to help keep this entity afloat, but now (the company) decided to take on the unions and get rid of them and gut their contracts,” Mleczko said.

The contracts expires March 31. Workers have authorized a possible strike or other labor action once the contracts end.

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Journal Register Company’s Bankruptcy Sale Approved

21 Mar

A NEW YORK bankruptcy judge has approved the sale of the Journal Register Company’s assets to Alden Global Capital’s stalking-horse bidder, 21st CMH Acquisition Corp. The ruling came down March 21.

The same judge had delayed a ruling March 19 to further review an objection to the sale made by a division of the Communication Workers of America.

“No one is giving them (the buyer) a free pass in the future,” the judge was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg story.

In the March 21 ruling, the judge ruled that since the transaction won’t close until after the union’s contract expires March 31, the sale could proceed.

Journal Register Co. employs some 1,800 full-time and 500 part-time workers spread across 10 states, including Nick Henderson, a copy editor at the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y.

Unions: Journal Register Co. Has “Declared War”

4 Mar

IN A MARCH 1 story on Poynter.org, Mich. unions say JRC has “declared war,” threaten strike, Andrew Beaujon writes the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions is warning its members of union-busting tactics being employed by Journal Register Company and the Alden Global Capital subsidiary, 21st CMH Acquisition Co., that plans to “purchase” the company in bankruptcy proceedings.

According to the union’s bulletin:

JRC and 21st CMH declared war in FOUR ways:

1. On February 22, JRC gave notice to all the unions at the Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune that it was terminating all collective bargaining agreements. The termination of contracts would be effective March 31. JRC is doing this because it claims it will no longer be the employer when 21st CMH becomes the owner of the newspapers on April 17.

2. JRC has refused to live up the successor clauses in the collective bargaining agreements. It has refused to require its purchaser, 21st CMH, to accept the current union agreements.

3. In Philadelphia and New York, 21st CMH proposed union-busting contracts. It proposed contracts that eliminate all protections regarding work jurisdiction, subcontracting and outsourcing. Those proposed contracts give 21st CMH management the right to change terms and conditions of employment at any time – insurance, work schedules, compensation, etc.

4. When the Philadelphia and New York unions would not to agree to the union-busting contracts, 21st CMH sent letters to JRC employees telling them they could apply for their own jobs when 21st CMH becomes the employer. 21st CMH would selectively hire some employees. The new terms of employment by 21st CMH, according to the letters, include:

  • 15% pay cut.
  • employees pay 50% of health insurance cost and 50% of future premium increases.
  • elimination of all pension plans.
  • reduced vacation schedule.
  • reduced severance pay if jobs are eliminated

An employee at one of the Michigan papers commented on the Denver Newspaper Guild site that some workers aren’t waiting around to see how this all plays out:

As an employee in the Michigan Cluster it is very unfair to us to be on pins and needles and when questions are asked we get answers read from a script. They need to tell us if we are going to have jobs, be considered for jobs, something so we know. Most are being very proactive in searching for another job right now.

In a related story, three Philadelphia units of the Newspaper Guild voted to accept a “final offer” from 21st CMH.

“Our members voted this up resoundingly, but they also were told take it or leave it,” [Newspaper] Guild President Bernie Lunzer said. “This new ownership which is really the old owners reconstituted – sent letters warning all workers that they would be fired when the sale is complete and would have to reapply for their jobs, and would have their pay cut.”

Things with the Journal Register Co. bankruptcy are starting to move fast, so stay tuned.

Journal Register Company’s Bankruptcy Sale Hits a Snag

25 Feb

IT APPEARS THE Journal Register Company bankruptcy plan hit a snag last week at the 11th hour. Law360 reported that newspaper unions involved in the process, as well as the Communications Workers of America, have objected to the sale of Journal Register Co. to the stalking horse bidder that is a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital, 21st CMH Acquisition. A hearing on the sale had been scheduled for Feb. 21.

In a story on the Newspaper Guild’s website, Guild president Bernie Lunzer said Journal Register Co. isn’t respecting the process, or its workers.

“While we know we won’t walk away with the status quo, we make it clear that our members, their workers, will be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “The Journal Register Co. is showing no such respect, not for its workers and not for the bankruptcy process itself, which certainly was never intended to be a get-out-of-jail-free card for businesses facing some financial trouble every couple of years.”

Pursuant to the bankruptcy process, Journal Register Co. mailed notices to employees and agencies in the 10 states where the company operates papers that layoffs could result from the bankruptcy, including 844 workers in Michigan285 in Connecticut230 in New York and 217 in Ohio.

From a story in Crain’s Cleveland Business, “Journal Register Co. puts its employees on needles and pins”:

The process that JRC is going through “is quite common in bankruptcy proceedings,” John Collard, chairman of Strategic Management Partners, an Annapolis, Md.-based business turnaround firm, tells The New Haven Register.

“When somebody buys a company out of bankruptcy, they are buying a specific list of assets, usually not 100 percent of what the existing business has,” Mr. Collard tells the newspaper. “While they can purchase assets, it’s not possible to purchase employees. So the acquiring company comes to employees and offers them the same terms they had with the old company or different terms.”

He says it’s likely that 21st CMH Acquisition Co. will not retain all of the Journal Register employees.

And from a story in The Saratogian:

“The notices sent to all Journal Register Company employees – from part-time staffers to managers to the executive team – are the next step in the Company’s ongoing sale process. Journal Register Company’s leadership team cannot speak on behalf of the new owner but has continually expressed to the purchaser that a competent and competitive workforce is critical to the company’s success moving forward,” Jonathan Cooper, vice president for media relations and employee communication at Digital First Media, said. Digital First Media currently operates Journal Register Company and other media companies.

April 17 is the target date for the sale to be completed.

More tidbits:

Alden Global Capital is a large stakeholder in another high-profile media bankruptcy:
Reader’s Digest parent company files for bankruptcy again | Reuters, Feb. 18, 2013

And for Journal Register Co., it’s deja vu all over again:
Journal Register Faces Bankrutpcy Plan Objections | New York Times, June 26, 2009

For more information on Alden Global Capital, click on the tag below this story.

The Post’s iPad Ski Guide Gets Some Props

30 Nov
The Denver Post

The Denver Post

IN CASE YOU missed it, The Denver Post released a really nice iPad edition of the Ski Guide that got a good review from Talking New Media, which calls it “by far the best thing I’ve seen out of MediaNews Group or the Journal Register Company.”

And for those who don’t have in iPad, the post has a video of the app in action — did I already say it’s really nice?

The site also published an update with more “insider” information later Nov. 27:

I think their effort is far more interesting and exciting now that I know more what they are doing in Denver.

And a tip of the hat to Post editor Greg Moore for posting the link to the review on The Water Cooler.

Here’s a link to the free Ski Guide app on iTunes LINK

Newspaper Ends “Horrible Experiment” With Offshore Customer Service

20 Nov

WHAT MAKES THIS extra interesting is that this is a Journal Register Co. paper. Be sure to read the comments on the Facebook page where the news was originally announced.

From jimromenesko.com: “Michigan Newspaper Ends ‘Horrible Experiment’ With Offshore Customer Service,” Nov. 20, 2012.

For about two years now, Mount Pleasant (Mich.) Morning Sun readers with delivery complaints have been sent to a call center in the Dominican Republic — and often not getting satisfactory results.

“Language barrier was a huge problem,” editor Rick Mills tells me in an email.

>snip<

Mills credits Journal Register CEO John Paton for trying the outsourcing, seeing that it didn’t work, and then going back to the old way.

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And bear in mind that outsourcing and layoffs were written into the contract recently ratified by the Non-Newsroom Unit. From a July 27 post:

In order to reach agreement on the full contract, The Post continues to insist that any agreement must include the amount of savings from the circulation call centers that they can achieve by sending that work to Honduras. After months of trying to negotiate an agreement that would keep the call center work at the Post, but reduce costs enough to be competitive with a Central American call center, it has become clear that the math just will not work. So the union presented a proposal accepting the outsourcing of the call center work in exchange for additional compensation and benefits for those who will be displaced but will continue working until their job is eliminated, increased compensation for call center employees who are retained and a timeline for the transition of work to Honduras. Most of the details have been tentatively agreed to. The timeline and a few benefits issues are not yet resolved.

The outsourcing likely will result in the elimination of more than 30 local call center employees’ jobs, leaving two full-time employees and five part-time employees.

Journal Register Likely to Reduce Print at Some Papers

20 Sep

Rick Edmonds on Poynter: “Journal Register likely to reduce print to three days a week at some papers,” Sept. 20, 2012.

 The new slimmed-down Journal Register company, being pieced together in a bankruptcy proceeding, is likely to reduce print frequency at several of its 20 dailies.

“I would consider and am considering a reduction in print frequency in some markets — (which ones) to be determined,” CEO John Paton wrote me in an e-mail interview earlier this week. “I think it makes sense to think about the frequency of print as print revenues decline and digital revenues increase.”

>snip<

Paton declined to discuss what miscalculations in a bankruptcy plan three years ago, under different management, left the company with too much debt to carry again so soon. He also said it would be wrong to assume the same issues are creating an equal financial problem at MediaNews Group, the much larger chain controlled by Alden and managed by Paton’s Digital First company for just over a year.

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Los Links: More on Journal Register’s Bankruptcy

7 Sep

For your reading pleasure, more stories in the wake of Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy announcement.

In Denver Post & MediaNews Group: Fallout from partner Journal Register Company bankruptcy? Westword’s Michael Roberts reports that, according to “an insider,” there was some dissension in the ranks once the bloom was off the Digital First rose:

By summertime, however, our source reported grumbling over what was perceived as top-heaviness at Digital First Media, with new senior executive hires during a time of layoffs at MediaNews Group papers around the country. The fear: MediaNews Group was being used as a cash cow to build up DFM. Our source also noted tension between MediaNews Group types and folks imported by Paton, many of them with Journal Register Company roots.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram writes in Newspaper restructuring — think steel, cars and airlines, the newspaper industry’s transformation will need to be measured in decades:

If there is a poster child for the “digital first” newspaper movement, it is probably Journal Register Co., which manages a chain of dailies and weeklies in the eastern U.S. John Paton took the helm as CEO after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, and implemented a wide range of digital-first moves — and yet parent company Digital First Media just announced that Journal Register Co. is filing for bankruptcy for a second time. The not-so-hidden message in all this is that despite all the pain of the last few years, the restructuring of newspapers isn’t even close to being over: as we’ve seen with the large structural changes in the steel industry, car makers and the airline market, transforming an industry with massive legacy costs is a long and bloody process. What emerges at the end remains to be seen.

In Journal Register, future-of-news star, is bankrupt again, Ryan Chittum writes for the Columbia Journalism Review that the numbers John Paton mentioned in his announcement are meaningless without some context:

The reason we don’t know more about the numbers is that JRC, as a closely held company, releases financial information only selectively—in sharp contrast to its “open journalism” philosophy.

>snip<

Paton, for instance, has repeatedly said digital revenues at JRC were up some large percentage since he took over. He does so again in his bankruptcy note. Yes, but from what to what? Those are big numbers all right, but 235 percent of not much is still not that much, and its worth noting that JRC’s digital revenues were far below industry average when Paton took over. It’s much easier to grow fast off a low base, and Paton has used the company’s privately held status to cherry pick positive numbers without having to paint a full picture—one that definitely didn’t include an imminent bankruptcy.

A former Journal Register employee wrote a letter about the bankruptcy announcement that is posted on Romenesko:

From RACHEL JACKSON, former Journal Register employee: The [Journal Register] Chapter 11/sale announcement does not surprise me in the least – and the employee you quoted as calling this “horseshit” is exactly right.

Lastly, in the wake of the bankruptcy announcement there has been some grumbling (perhaps it’s contagious) about the fact that Project Thunderdome is located in Manhattan rather than, say, Willoughby, Ohio, where real estate costs are presumably less. Jim Brady explains the reasoning in a piece by Adrienne LaFrance for Nieman Journalism Lab, Why does Project Thunderdome have to be in New York City?

“You want to be in a position to get the best possible people you can,” Brady said. “I’d love to get in an argument with anybody who says there isn’t a lot of journalistic talent in New York City.”

Carry on.

Is Alden Global Capital Souring on Newspapers?

6 Sep

From a piece by Martin Langeveld at Nieman Journalism Lab: Journal Register’s bankruptcy is strategic, all right — but for whom?

In an in-depth analysis of the possible implications of Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy filing, Langeveld writes that while Alden Global Capital’s initial strategy seemed to be one of consolidation, the hedge fund might have changed its mind — it has shed around half of its newspaper holdings in the past year.

Last year in July, I estimated Alden’s total media investments to be about $750 million. Today, after the various sales and counting JRC’s value as zero, those holdings are probably down to about $300 million, and it seems clear that Alden would just as soon get out completely — at least from newspapers.

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The Empty Copy Desk

23 May

From John E. McIntyre’s “You Don’t Say” column in the Baltimore Sun, May 23, 2012:

Gregory Moore, the editor of the Denver Post, is, I believe, a good man grappling with a difficult challenge. The Post, as described in an article at Poynter.org by Steve Myers, is essentially eliminating its copy desk. Eleven are going or gone, a couple have been reassigned to other duties, and the nine survivors become assistant editors assigned to the various newsroom departments.

When explanations of these and similar changes are made, there is talk of moving away from “assembly-line editing” and “outmoded nineteenth-century industrial processes” to some bold, modern, fresh, immediate journalism that removes all those unnecessary “touches” between the writer and the reader.

This is, of course, cant. The brutal facts are these: Terrified by declines in revenue, newspapers are shedding employees to save money. They are attempting to keep as many reporters as possible to generate content, and they are gambling that you will tolerate shoddier work.

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