Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guild prez on Zell, the industry and union strategies

Tribune declined an invitation to appear on today's Democracy Now! for a round-table discussion on the state of the industry. The program was hosted by Juan Gonzales, columnist at the New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now! with guests Newspaper Guild-CWA president Bernard Lunzer (pictured at left), Chris Hedges, author and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Linda Jue, past president of the SPJ-Northern California Chapter.

Tribune's Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations Gary Weitman wrote in a statement:

"We have gotten a great deal of attention for the actions we've taken at our newspapers to address the issues we and our peers face ... At the end of the day, we had the largest news-gathering staffs in our markets and the second and third largest in the country — in Chicago and Los Angeles. That is true even after implementing the staff reductions..."
Asked to respond, Lunzer said:
"We've watched very closely at what's been happening at the [Guild-represented] Baltimore Sun and the loss of all the international bureaus and that kind of coverage, but its important to note that what they're doing is having a great effect on local coverage as well.

The other day Sam Zell said he's not going to sell any more papers in 2008, but we think in some cases, it might be better if Zell were to consider selling more of the empire and breaking it off. We hope that local ownership would actually create more responsibility and more response back to the local market and back to the local community — they really are going to be the ones that are going to be the biggest losers in this. Less is less. And we need to say that out loud. Subscribers are not fools. They can see that these products have been diminished ... We hear that Tribune is going to save journalism through these cuts. That's not what we're seeing."
Gonzales asked Lunzer what strategies the Newspaper Guild is developing to try to confront "this new reality you're facing for your members":
"One we have been pursuing for some time is ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] strategies and we're hoping to have an announcement very soon where we might have finally been able to bring one of these to fruition...

We believe there is going to be a future for print, but we're not naive. We also understand there has to be innovation. We've been willing to bargain concessions where necessary, but we think the biggest mistake is that the owners and publishers have not been talking to the front-line workers about ... innovation. So what we're trying to do where we have to do concessions, we want to trade that for real involvement – real committees that are able to work on a business model, on the future of the product.

We still believe that there's a place for quality journalism and that people will want it... There's a lot of room for innovation, not just in news, but in advertising.
Lunzer also said The Newspaper Guild-CWA is fighting against the push for more media consolidation, and is working to help move through the House of Representatives a bill that would reverse the FCC's December 2007 cross-ownership rule change. "We think if there's more cross-ownership between broadcast and print there will be less innovation. I would tell you that most of the people we talk to in broadcast understand that broadcast is only five or six years behind print in terms of the effect that the Internet is having on the traditional delivery system."

Listen to the full discussion at Democracy Now!

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