Sunday, October 28, 2007

Catching up here

There's a lot of things going on and we're trying to filter some of the info we're getting. Info relevant to this blog seem to rehash news we've posted, linked or commented on, but here's a couple of catch-up items:

-- Tribune's sale of Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time in Connecticut to MediaNews Group will include recognition of union contracts but all employees will be required to re-apply for their jobs. MediaNews also said it will eliminate by years' end the print and packaging departments which will leave 55 workers without jobs. MN's MO is to cluster, consolidate and cut.

-- We attended the California First Amendment Coalition's Free Speech & Open Government Coalition at USC last week, mainly because former, current (and perhaps future) Guild members were among the panelists. Though the conference was the Coalition's 12th annual, it was the first we have attended. It certainly won't be the last.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

New buyer for Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time

Hearst Corporation will fork over $62.4 million for the 2 papers, but MediaNews Group, Inc. will manage them under an existing joint venture agreement with Hearst. Tribune is selling the real estate separately. The deal is expected to close in a few weeks.

Earlier this year, Gannett offered $73 million for the two newspapers, but the deal was derailed, supposedly because Gannett wouldn't assume the union contracts.

Will the structure of the Hearst deal still the fear of a MediaNews' unfair advantage in southwestern Connecticut?

When this deal is done, MediaNews will be running the day-to-day operations. Check out our MediaNews website at of post)

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tribune 3Q Earnings Drop 7 Pct As Ad Revenue Slows, but Shares Rise As Results Beat Estimates

Despite skepticism on Wall Street, CEO Dennis FitzSimons said the transaction under which Tribune is going private remains on track to close in the fourth quarter. AP
Tribune release

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Caught in the grip of a fire disaster*

*New link added
Los Angeles Times print and online staff are working around the clock in challenging conditions to cover a dozen or so Southern California fires that have blackened more than 360,000 acres, burned 1000+ homes and disrupted the lives of more than 500,000 residents. Associate Editor Leo Wolinsky said the firestorm "is shaping up to be the biggest one" in his time at the paper. More from E&P

Our thoughts are with them all and hope none experience personal loss from the fire disaster.

*Image from an LAT reader submitted to the site's Reader Photos page. (end of post)

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Zell pledges to change Tribune's corporate culture ...

Just as he has with his acquisitions in other industries.

"Just by being private, the culture will change. We won't be forced to make decisions that are 90 days in relevance," Zell told a group of newspaper executives at the Inland Press Association's annual meeting in Chicago this afternoon. (The group is a newspaper trade group that represents about 1,200 papers.) He sees Tribune as a very good long-term investment and is in for the long haul with no exit strategy.

Newspaper management, in general, he said, was too complacent about the changes going on around them. "I believe there was a fellow named Nero who fiddled while Rome burned," he said.
(end of post)

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Risk master

Zell told The Wall Street Journal's Collin Levy that he's a professional risk taker, "but I'm a professional risk taker who understands all the risks he takes. A lot of people don't." ("Sam Zell: Professor Risk". Registration required.)

Zell gave Levy the interview on the condition that Levy agreed not to ask about the high-profile Tribune buyout, but writes "Mr. Zell isn't completely without exposure. Many now think that the deal will be junked or rebuilt."

Zell showed Levy his Christmas decorative music boxes and explained why he sends friends and business associates the boxes with songs "on themes ranging from politics to the world economy"— they're his "economic forecasting machines". Zell on YouTube. No kidding.

The commentary offers a bit more insight into the MO of your new boss/co-owner when (if?) the Deal is completed.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Lunch? Hmmm, no thanks.

For a minimum bid of one hundred bucks, staffers had a chance yesterday to win lunch with the editor and publisher, proceeds to go to the United Way. The result is surprising. Or is it? LAObserved

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Tribune FCC exemptions on the line *

Martin's proposed schedule threatens Tribune's request for waivers by early November. The Zell Deal will be more expensive to Zell and Tribune if the transaction is not completed by Dec. 31. Chicago Tribune:

The merger includes a clause granting shareholders an 8 percent "ticking fee" in the event the deal isn't done by the end of this year. A delay would put Tribune on the hook to shareholders for $871,884 a day, or $318 million a year, an obligation that would make financing the deal more expensive.
* From the Los Angeles Times:
Martin has proposed an ambitious timetable for the FCC to vote on a package of media ownership rule changes by Dec. 18. Among the changes he is expected to propose is the elimination of the ban on owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market. But some FCC commissioners, lawmakers and public interest advocates criticize the vote as coming too soon.

A Dec. 18 vote could come too late for Tribune, which has long pushed for lifting the cross-ownership ban. The company needs 20 days to complete the transaction after FCC approval.

To go private by the end of the year in a deal led by real estate mogul Sam Zell, the company needs the FCC by mid-November either to grant temporary waivers or to lift the cross-ownership ban, said Shaun Sheehan, Tribune's Washington vice president.
(end of post)

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Analysts predict impact of FCC cross-ownership rule change may be minimal

The cross-ownership strategy is widely considered a failure as evidenced by the struggles of Tribune Company after its purchase of Times Mirror and the recent decision by Belo to isolate its newspapers from its local TV stations. "All the supposed advantages of owning a newspaper and TV station in one market haven't worked out to be as profound as once imagined," said John Morton, president of Morton Research Inc., a media consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md. WSJ

In 2003, when the FCC failed to loosen ownership rules, media companies still thought it was beneficial to merge TV and newspapers to sell combined packages of advertising in the same market. "Cross-selling of advertising has been elusive and is not widely believed in at this point," said Leland Westerfield, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets.

FCC Chairman Martin wants a vote Dec. 18.

Related: Two senators urged the FCC not to "rush forward" with rule changes USAToday

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More newsroom staff cuts happening

Media companies continue to assert that cuts to newsroom staff levels must be part of their cost-saving fix aimed at slowing their steady decline of profits.

In the past week, cuts have been announced in Detroit and San Antonio. Now there is speculation that more cuts will come at the Washington Post.

Rick Weiss, national reporter and co-chair of the Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild writes:

“I’ve certainly heard for many months now that the last round of buyouts didn’t achieve the cost savings that they hoped for, and I’ve heard more recently that the most recent economic numbers here cannot support the current staffing levels here.”
(end of post)

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The future of the newspaper, without the newspaper

Hal Crowther, former Buffalo News reporter, Newspaper Guild member and veteran journalist wrote a long (very long) column on what he believes are the not-so-positive forward-thinking changes happening in our industry that threaten professional journalism's survival. Interesting read, but here's what caught our attention:

The Tribune Company, the grasping conglomerate owner that strangled the Los Angeles Times, has been entertaining a buyout offer from an "angel," Chicago real estate megabillionaire Sam Zell, who's on record saying "there is no difference" between running a newspaper and managing any other for-profit business. If that isn't irony enough, Zell's nickname is "The Grave Dancer," for his ability to spot moribund properties and exploit them profitably. How I'd relish the opportunity to lecture him on the difference between owning a newspaper and owning a mall. [Former LAT editor John] Carroll argues that these corporate leviathans are "genuinely perplexed" by journalists—"people in their midst who do not feel beholden, first and foremost, to the shareholder. What makes these people tick, they wonder. The job of any employee, as they see it, is to produce a good financial result, not to indulge in some dreamy form of do-gooding at company expense. ... Our corporate superiors regard our beliefs as quaint, wasteful and increasingly tiresome." If we believe Carroll, who ought to know, nothing we ever held sacred is safe from jungle capitalism and its harsh ideology, as we might have guessed from the awful mess the free market has made of American health care. Citing Carroll and Washington Post owner Donald Graham as his star witnesses, [Russell] Baker comes to the radical conclusion [in an Aug. 16 essay] that "free-market capitalism doesn't really work very well in the newspaper business, and if rigorously applied, tends to destroy it."

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FCC head has proposal to repeal media ownership rules in December

Kevin J. Martin's plan to relax cross-ownership rules, which has the support of three of the five commission members, would be a huge win for Sam Zell, who needs FCC approval to complete his buyout of Tribune and Rupert Murdoch, who has lobbied against the current rules for years. NYT:

Mr. Martin said he was striving to reach a consensus with his fellow commissioners, both on the schedule and on the underlying rule changes, although he would not say whether he would move the measures forward if he were able to muster only three votes.

“We’ve had six hearings around the country already; we’ve done numerous studies; we’ve been collecting data for the last 18 months; and the issues have been pending for years,” Mr. Martin said in an interview. “I think it is an appropriate time to begin a discussion to complete this rule-making and complete these media ownership issues.”
If Martin rushes through to rewrite the rules and push for a vote in December, there'll be a whole lot of hollering from folks who oppose relaxing rules that will increase media consolidation.

* AP story at
(end of post)

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Another example of why outsourcing is a bad idea

Customer service representatives in Manila apparently don't speak English well enough to handle pissed off Chicago Sun-Times subscribers who aren't getting the paper delivered — and only part of it when it is.

In August Tribune took over home-delivery of the Sun-Times. The S-T figured the deal, worth millions to both papers, was a good one: it's advertisers and subscribers would get better service and at a reduced cost to the S-T. But for S-T subscribers, the deal's not working out so well. (end of post)

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sun-Sentinel throws out national/foreign desk

In a sign of the times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel will reassign its resources to focus on local coverage. Fortunately, the dozen or so affected staff will still have jobs.

Given the ease with which readers can access other countries' media online, Editor Earl Maucker said, many U.S. publications can no longer justify covering international news the way they have in the past. "We don't look for the Sun-Sentinel to be the hometown paper of Caracas, Venezuela."

"Today, we're not in control. The customers are in control," said Howard Greenberg, publisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We have to create a new business model."

Customers? Strange. The headline says "Readers in control ..." (end of post)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dow Jones union approve new contract agreement

With an overwhleming "yes" vote, the Dow Jones membership of IAPE, The Newspaper Guild-CWA, has ratified a new three-year contract with Dow Jones & Company.

As reported by the the IAPE Election Committee the "yes" votes totaled 831 while the "no" voters totaled 90: 90.23% in favor of ratification and 9.77% opposed.

From the union's bulletin: "Our commitment has to be unchanged— and unbreakable: This is your union and it exists solely to defend and promote your interests. That fight continues long after the headlines and contract rallies fade. For IAPE to be successful, you have to remain engaged and active."

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New buyer for Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time?

Connecticut Tribune workers beware.

The company has sought a buyer for the 2 papers since it's deal with Gannett was torpedoed in March. Now Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group, looking to expand its Denver-based empire, is showing interest in 2 more papers in Connecticut. (He owns 21 newspapers in NE — 8 in CT).

But MediaNews' offer was met with a complaint filed with the state attorney general by a competitor that owns The Hour in Norwalk and weekly papers in Stamford.

Brett L. Whitton, president of The Hour Publishing Co., wrote in a letter to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that MediaNews made an offer to buy the two newspapers from Tribune Co. Whitton said he was concerned that a sale would give an "unfair competitive advantage" to MediaNews in southwestern Connecticut.


"The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of this potential acquisition and to request you investigate whether this transaction would violate any federal or state anti-trust legislation," Whitton wrote.

Whitton said that MediaNews could put The Hour out of business and become a monopoly, leaving southwestern Connecticut with only one newspaper company for local news and advertising.

"There would be left but one daily newspaper ownership voice in Fairfield County," he wrote.
We strongly encourage workers at The Advocate and The Time to be aware of MediaNews' "clustering" strategy and the negative impact that strategy is having at the papers it snatches up. In the San Francisco Bay area, the regrouping of MediaNews papers and consolidation of numerous operations in the past year has resulted in the elimination of at least 280 jobs (another 50 ad production jobs were outsourced to India) and the dilution of the unique character of coverage at each paper.

In a recent Editor & Publisher story Rachele Kanigel, a journalism instructor at San Francisco State University and a former Tribune reporter, said "It is one big newspaper group that doesn't really serve any of its communities adequately. I am very concerned." ("A Lock on the Bay?" by Joe Strupp. October 1. Available by subscription only.)

A major component of the "clustering" strategy in California was to move work from the union papers to non-union papers, eliminate jobs and reduce union membership to minority status.

Check out The Newspaper Guild's OneBigBang for information on Singleton's MediaNews and the "clustering" situation in California — from the workers' perspective. (end of post)

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Newspaper 3Q results will show significant drop-offs in real estate advertising

Print ad revenues continue to decline as a result of the housing slump. Tribune's real estate sales slid 30.4% in August on declines in Los Angeles, Chicago and Florida. Editor&Publisher
(end of post)

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Zell is taking a long, hard look at LAT, Newsday and Chicago Tribune

Before Zell made his Deal he had never seen a copy of Newsday. Donald Trunp sent him a copy the day after the Zell Deal was announced. From Daniel Wagner's weblog at

Speaking after a no-press-allowed speech before the Argyle Executive Forum’s 2007 CEO Leadership Forum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side Thursday, Zell said he has been giving Tribune’s papers — including Newsday, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune — a long, hard look.
Zell said he already has in mind some of the changes he hopes to bring to the papers, though several people who attended his speech said he had described himself as a businessman who does not know anything about newspapers.
Given voice, he'll have thousands of experienced employee-owners who could advise and help him make positive changes to the papers. (end of post)

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Smoker fee, surcharge draws angry reaction from staffers * **

Editor & Publisher reported today on Tribune's plan, pointing out that Gannett and Scripps Newspapers have similar fees in place. Gannett said their fees are part of a wellness plan. Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild president Bill Salganick said "What strikes me is that [other] employers try to encourage healthy living, but they do it in a constructive way by developing programs for weight management and smoking cessation. But Tribune immediately went negative."

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said ""We pay the lion's share of medical expenses and we have a responsibility to contain those costs. We are and have been doing everything we can, it is a shared responsibility between employees and the company."

Shared responsibility? Maybe. But what about fairness? Why not give the non-smokers a price break.

* Also: Mark Lacter at LAObserved weighs in
** Read Eric Gershon at the Hartford Courant: "Spouses, Smokers Earning Penalties"

(end of post)

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New blogger at LAT: the publisher!

"A number" of staffers have suggested David Hiller do "a blog about things going on at The Times and in our industry." A two-way blog. Folks can post comments, but not anonymously.

No one outside The Times will be privy to the blog contents or comments. (Of course not.) "This is internal, just for us, so please don’t share the blog content outside the company." LAObserved

Well, if nothing else, Mr. Hiller will soon discover that blogging can be very time-consuming if one is to stay up on it along with the other very important duties needing attention as well.

'Course, the blog just may offer the workers the perfect opportunity to have on-going, 24/7 communication with the guy in charge! Great!

If the content stays inside, of course. (Riiiiiight.) (end of post)

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Sam Zell, self-described "professional opportunist"

Zell built his empire through a willingness to buy assets when everyone else hates them, according to someone that attended the private soiree (Beverly Hills?) where Zell explained what he does with his money. "So what else is Zell buying? He's about as contrarian as it gets. He bought real estate when it was down and out in the 1970s... and he's buying newspapers today. Many of the nation's largest newspaper publishers are down more than 50% from their highs."

Also: Zell is worth billions of dollars more than Donald Trump, is the biggest warehouse/distribution property owner in Mexico and runs a "secret investment society".

He'll make big money while you carry big debt. Ouch. (end of post)

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Trib employee wonders if other unhealthy lifestyle sins will be surcharged

Michael Mayo was "completely shocked when [he] got the letter yesterday from Tribune Company (corporate parent of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel) outlining the changes to our 2008 health plans."

“Tobacco use fee – Tribune employees who use tobacco products (or have covered dependents who do so), will pay a $100 per month fee (per family) in addition to their medical premium. Smoking cessation programs will be offered to assist those who use tobacco in leading a smoke-free lifestyle. The fee will be waived upon completion of the program.”
And another thing: "... there’s no reward for not being a smoker. If the company imposed a surcharge on smokers and then gave a proportionate break to all the non-smokers I could maybe be a little more positive about the whole thing."

The concerns and questions you raise, Michael, are similar to those of Baltimore Sun employees who, unlike you, have the right to challenge the company's new — and arguably unfair — strategy for saving money by shifting more of the cost burden to the workers.

Will the top-tier executives and publishers will also be required to pay the additional fees? (end of post)

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No plans to sell the LAT, unless ...

Sam Zell in Beverly Hills at a conference on corporate growth, said he has told LA gazillionares that he had no plans to sell the Times, but "... if you have a price, we can talk." So does he mean he WOULD sell the paper, but NOT to those guys? Sounds like he'd sell if the price was right. You know, maximize his profits. See post below. (end of post)

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Efforts to sell Cubs slowed to a crawl

Zell is looking to maximize profits so the team may still be a Tribune property after the Zell Deal is finalized.

The slowdown has mystified bidders, who months ago submitted applications required by Major League Baseball, but since have heard little. "It's maddening," says an adviser to one bidding group who, like most involved with the sale, requested anonymity. Offering documents won't be ready for weeks, a source familiar with Tribune's planning says.

But Tribune is in no hurry as it decides whether to sell the team, Wrigley Field and other assets in one piece or individually.

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Unions at Baltimore Sun balk at smoker, other "fees"

Tribune has joined the ranks of employers that are imposing additional fees on a segment of its workforce as a means of cutting its health care costs. It intends to charge a "fee" of $100 per month to smokers (or those who have smoker dependents) in the company health plan, and a $75 per month "fee" if a Tribune spouse has coverage available at work, but opts to to be in the Tribune plan.

Have you heard about the plan? No? Well, the unions at the Sun know because they have notification and meet-and-discuss provisions in their contracts that must be honored if and when the company seeks to make changes to union-covered employees' benefits.

The Guild, the pressmen and the mailers at the Sun have filed grievances because their contract clauses say premium share can only increase by four percentage points in any year and the "fee" is a premium that violates that clause.

Stay tuned, because the outcome of the Baltimore dispute could influence the fees charged you as well. (end of post)

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

AASFE winners: LAT and Chicago Tribune

The 2 Tribune papers were among 10 winners of the 2006 Best Sections contest for the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors that were announced at its conference this afternoon. The judges said the Chicago Tribune "presents a strong and consistent features package that reflects their community." About The Los Angeles Times: "There’s a definite 'wow factor' here." Read what else the judges has to say at AASFE. Props to the hard-working folks that do the great work.

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Mystery in Melville * **

Three gold Pulitzer prizes are missing from a Newsday safe and reports are that the the missing medals may have been sold for a total of $15,500 last Friday at a Long Beach, CA auction. Replicas of the coveted prizes have been on display in the newspaper's executive offices for years so no one remembers ever seeing the real medals firsthand. Odd. So they could have been stolen years ago and no one was the wiser? Very strange.

* UPDATE: Pulitzer medals thought to be Newsday's recovered
** How do you prove they're real Pulitzers? Weigh them.
(end of post)

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Could Belo's move spark similar moves at other newspaper companies?

* Corrected
Belo Corp. is splitting itself up, moving its current debt of $1.2B to the TV business and leaving its new newspaper company, A.H. Belo, debt-free. (The Dallas Morning News, The Riverside(CA)Press Enterprise and The Providence Journal, where the Guild represents workers.)

From Content Bridges: "It's an interesting bet and one that will be watched from several angles by the industry and its investors. ... The Belo newspaper approach stands against the soon-to-close (?) Tribune approach. That one ladles more than $10B in debt on the "new Tribune," highly leveraging it. Belo seems to understand that each dollar it puts into debt service is a dollar it can't use to keep the newspaper content and ad engines primed, until that eureka moment arrives."

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Why RedEye West won't work *

Freebie tabloids target the 20-minute public transportation commuters who may be looking for a distraction and a quick read on yesterday's news. Los Angeles commuters are different. Michael Miner at Chicago Reader asked someone who knows LA and Chicago:

"It's absurd. . . . The reason it wouldn't work in LA is the same reason a Red Eye wouldn't work in Milwaukee: with rare exceptions, 95 percent of people here commute in cars and not to fixed destinations. They'd have to give the rag away at gas stations or Starbucks. A Spanish-language edition would be necessary for these downtown office and maintenance workers who make full use of the buses in the wee hours . . ."
Also, Miner has heard the same thing we have: "... a lot of hands at the LA Times are hoping that if and when [the Zell Deal is completed,] Zell will sell their paper to somebody local, somebody who knows how LA goes to work."

* "C'mon. Get real." Native Intelligence at LAObserved.
(end of post)

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Reinvention, revitalization at LAT

Editor Jim O'Shea, left, outlined in a memo to staff today plans to implement many of the 48 recommendations made by its Reinvent Committee (comprised of newsroom staff members) to improve the Los Angeles Times. New on the horizon: reorganization of some newsroom departments; a reader's page on with a moderated blog; update online staff lists with contact info and bios (great!); shorter, better stories ("That doesn't mean we won't run long stories."); staff development opportunities, revitalize local coverage ... Read the full memo at LAObserved. (end of post)

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European journalists unions to stand up for journalism

Journalists' rights, collective agreements and quality journalism are actively promoted by the member unions of the European Federation of Journalists. The growing pressure of political interference, media consolidation, excessive commercialization of the news (sound familiar?) and failing workplace conditions and standards is creating an alarming crisis that, according to the EFJ, is negatively impacting quality journalism. Member unions are being called to "stand up" in a full day of continent-wide collective action Nov. 5 to protest the decline in quality journalism.

The EFJ is part of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The Newspaper Guild-CWA is also a member of the IFJ.(end of post)

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Chicago columnist on why unions are needed

Neil Steinberg, left, of the Chicago Sun-Times and a Newspaper Guild member decided last week in the wake of the GM workers strike "that union solidarity demands something be said." From his 9/26 column:

Workers in the Third World are paid less for a reason. They are less educated, less efficient, and work under harsher conditions, churning out pollution we would never tolerate here. Their standards can be woefully inadequate, as U.S. toymakers discovered to their sorrow.

They don't have unions. We do. Years of Republican lobbying have given unions a bad name by focusing on all-too-real corruption. But we wouldn't have the standard of living that's imperiled now without them.
(end of post)

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