Illinois labor leaders support our contract quest

Officials from 10 major unions and labor organizations — including the Illinois Education Association, AFSCME Council 31, the Illinois AFL-CIO and police and firefighter unions — recently wrote a letter to the editors of The State Journal-Register and Illinois Times calling on GateHouse to work out a fair contract covering Guild members in the SJ-R newsroom in Springfield.

We give thanks to these labor leaders for supporting good journalism as an essential component of a stable democracy. This show of support is bound to ripple throughout the community, and it should be a strong indication to GateHouse Media officials in New York that the general public values quality journalism in the capital city. Readers of the paper far and wide don’t want to see GateHouse siphon the lifeblood from the The State Journal-Register in the name of profit. Readers already have seen printing of the paper outsourced to Peoria and page design outsourced to Texas while a steady stream of talented staffers either left the paper or were shown the door.

Readers want to see profits generated by the SJ-R’s remaining hardworking employees spent on more than lavish bonuses for top GateHouse officials and the acquisition of more newspapers. A good first contract with newsroom employees would bring stability for workers and readers alike.

Here is that letter:

Since Abraham Lincoln’s time, Springfield residents have relied on local newspapers to provide information and insight about local and state matters.

Because Springfield is home to state office holders and their staffs, these newspapers had substantial influence on the debate of issues affecting all Illinoisans.

The State Journal-Register (SJR) is the last daily paper standing in Mr. Lincoln’s hometown and it is crucial the SJR remain viable, employing first-rate journalists and presenting high quality news and analysis.

To achieve that goal, there must be a fair settlement of the contract between Gatehouse Media, owner of the State Journal-Register, and newsroom employees represented by the United Media Guild.

For more than three years, the employees have been trying to negotiate a contract to allow the SJR to continue to publish a high quality newspaper and, over time, boost circulation to the point that reporter positions eliminated since Gatehouse bought the paper can be restored.

Many of these employees have logged decades of service to the SJR and its readers, remaining loyal despite Gatehouse’s elimination of the copy desk and other important newsroom positions.

We urge everyone who believes a great city deserves a great daily newspaper to call the publisher and insist that the SJR negotiate a fair contract with the newsroom employees.

You can reach Publisher Clarissa Williams at (217) 788-1326.

Support our fight to Save the State Journal-Register

Springfield is a great city. It deserves a great newspaper. And the journalists working at the State Journal-Register are working hard to maintain quality journalism, despite massive cutbacks to newsroom staffing.

GateHouse Media and its parent company, New Media Investment Group, are using the newspaper like an ATM. The newspaper’s positive cash flow is going to pay stock dividends — mostly to a handful of Wall Street investors — and fund more acquisitions that the company can bleed for cash.

Meanwhile many journalists have gone more than eight years without a raise. Through their union, the United Media Guild, they are trying to negotiate a fair contract that encourages the retention of veteran reporters, photographers and editors who know this community and region well.

The company has maintained a hard negotiating line at the table and engaged in unfair labor practices against the union.

Thousands of area residents have signed supported cards, sent e-mails to GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis, signed our on-line petition, visited our booth at the Illinois State Fair and seen our members hand-billing public events.

You have heard our commercials on local radio stations and seen news reports of our labor fight. We appreciate your support.

But the work is not done. The years-long battle for a fair contract continues. Readers and advertisers should ask SJ-R management why it refuses to reward journalists with fair contract.

Publisher Clarissa Williams can be reached at (217) 788-1326.

GateHouse Media drains SJ-R profits, depletes newspaper

GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis

No one should ever work eight years without a raise – especially when the people at the top of that company are pocketing millions and paying fat dividend checks to investors. Everyone knows that it’s the workers who make companies thrive and prosper and not just the few big shots at the top.

The hardworking men and women at the State Journal-Register have now gone eight years without raises. Eight years. And during that time, the people running GateHouse Media – the SJ-R’s corporate owner – have awarded themselves millions in salaries and yearly bonuses. And that’s just wrong.

For 184 years the State Journal-Register has been looking out for the people of central Illinois. Now it’s our turn. Call on GateHouse to reward its employees and mandate that a fair contract – one that includes raises – is negotiated at the State Journal-Register and soon. And that, until that occurs, to STOP awarding all those executive bonuses!


Reminding GateHouse Media that good journalism is good business

Veteran State Journal-Register Dean Olsen reporter joined the United Media Guild contingent that ventured to New York City to attend the New Media Investment Group shareholders meeting.

New Media is the parent company of GateHouse Media, which operates the State Journal-Register and several other Illinois newspapers. Olsen, the UMG’s Springfield unit chair, passed our concerns directly to GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis.

The State Journal-Register is a profitable operation. Yet the company has continued cutting costs to maximize cash flow, which is used to pay dividends to shareholders, fund more acquisitions and reward top executives handsomely.

This is good for New Media/GateHouse in the near term, but the failure to reinvest in the company’s core product — quality local and regional content — will hurt in the long-term.

Cost-cutting at the State Journal-Register has caused the news-gathering operation to erode. Readers and advertisers have noticed this decline. Many have pledged their support of our campaign to Save the SJ-R by gaining a fair collective bargaining agreement that respects and rewards good journalism.

Here is Dean’s account of the shareholders meeting.

Here is the account from Shannon Duffy, business representative for UMG.

Here is the flyer we distributed at the meeting.

Reporter’s plight draws Industry attention

Jim Romensko is one of the country’s most respected media bloggers. And he has paid close attention to the plight of our unit chair Dean Olsen, who was forced to take a second job to make ends meet.

Olsen is an award-winning medical reporter at the State Journal-Register. He has covered complex issues critical to citizens of central Illinois. His work is important to the community.

But with wages at the newspaper frozen for more than seven years — while the newspaper generated substantial cash flow to GateHouse Media — Olsen had to take a second job.

Recently Romenesko updated his readers by highlighting our public campaign in Springfield.

About those GateHouse efficiencies

The Boston Globe took a good look at the GateHouse growth. Top executives Michael Reed and Kirk Davis have done quite well for themselves.

Here is an excerpt about what this means to newspapers and the communities impacted:

“Reed and Davis set an ambitious goal: $1 billion of deals over three years. They’re paying for these deals with new debt, the sale of New Media stock, and operating cash flow. Reed has told analysts there’s at least $75 million available in debt to do more deals and at least $70 million in cash from his papers for acquisitions this year.

“Many journalists would rather see that money go back to their strapped newsrooms.

“Jeff Gordon, president of the United Media Guild in St. Louis, said labor actions are underway in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Illinois to protest working conditions at GateHouse papers. The union plans to launch a radio ad campaign in Springfield, Ill., this month.

” ‘They could have a long-term prosperity in these markets,” Gordon said. “But they could also be short-sighted and be so wrapped up in cash flow that they undermine the foundation of their business.’

“Then there’s the question of whether the GateHouse team is growing too quickly, again. Davis and Reed answer that by saying they’re being disciplined — buying profitable papers with beaten-down values — and they’re keeping the debt under control.

“There are other differences, with a digital marketing arm in Quincy now and a centralized page design desk in Austin, Texas. In less than a year since the design center opened in the spring of 2014, the company has built the workforce to 140 people, cranking out pages there.

“This growth, of course, has come at the expense of jobs across the country. The Providence Journal lost about a dozen copy editors last month, for example, and Jim Romenesko’s media blog this month reported layoffs at several Halifax Media papers acquired by New Media.

” ‘They are finding that even in 2015, there can be lots of efficiencies in these enterprises, which is somewhat surprising given that we’ve had cutting for seven or eight years now,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst who runs the Newsonomics blog.
But some say it’s not just jobs that are being lost.

” ‘You get this homogenization effect,” said Thomas Caywood, a reporter who left the T&G post-acquisition after his request for a modest pay raise was denied. “Yes, it’s more efficient to have this design center in Austin. But I think you lose some of the regional individuality. GateHouse is to journalism like what Olive Garden is to Italian food.’


Why you should join our fight for quality journalism

Newspapers play an essential role in American society and the State Journal-Register plays an important role in the Springfield and nearby central Illinois communities.

New York-based GateHouse Media bought the SJ-R and slashed its news gathering operation to a fraction of its former size. Although the newspaper has remained highly profitable,  GateHouse has continued to freeze wages and reduce benefits.

springfield1This draconian cost-cutting has ensured that long-time reporters, editors and photographer who know our community will move on to jobs elsewhere.

In time, the institutional knowledge of the SJ-R will go away and a steady stream of new hires will pass through a revolving door. Such a scenario, while bad for the paper, would prove devastating for our communities.

Imagine covering state politics with new hires and interns.

Springfield and Central Illinois deserve much better from the out-of-town owners of this important regional institution.

Please join our fight to save the quality of the State Journal-Register.


State Journal-Register organizes with Guild, fights for first contract

The State Journal-Register has suffered massive staffing cuts under the ownership of GateHouse Media. Copy editing jobs were sent out of state. Although the SJ-R has remained highly profitable, many surviving reporters, editors and photographers have gone more than seven years without a raise.

The parent company is siphoning off profits to pay dividends to shareholders and purchase other properties. By refusing to reinvest in the SJ-R, GateHouse has  triggered constant staff turnover, diminished the news gathering operation and left the state capital with a much lesser newspaper.

Reporters, editors and photographers at the State Journal-Register organized in 2012 with the United Media Guild, a local within the The News Guild-Communications Workers of America. We are negotiating a first contract that will encourage staff retention and ensure the first-rate journalism Springfield deserves.

Please join our efforts to convince GateHouse Media that Springfield deserves a great newspaper. Help us save the SJ-R.

Springfield has rallied to support our quest for a great newspaper.
Springfield has rallied to support our quest for a great newspaper.


GateHouse Media: Vulture capitalists

The vulture capitalists at New Media Investment Group/GateHouse Media are at again.

The same folks who built the GateHouse Media empire — before running it into bankruptcy and blowing through $1 billion in debt — are building an even bigger media empire. It bought the Halifax Media Group for $280 million and recently added some Stephens Media properties.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette is a huge addition for the company. It will help New Media/GateHouse to control much of Massachusetts outside of Boston. The Providence Journal, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sarasota Herald Tribune and Daytona Beach News-Journal has pushed New Media into bigger markets.

Although Halifax has been a relentless cost-cutter, this acquisition could cost even more journalists their jobs due to the inevitable consolidation of Halifax and Stephens newspapers with New Media/GateHouse operations. New Media/GateHouse will continue outsourcing local jobs to its central design house in Austin, Texas.

While the Halifax deal was going down, long-time Gatehouse executive Brad Dennison abruptly resigned his post as Senior Vice President of Publishing.

Dennison supported quality journalism on his watch and made some outstanding managerial hires. Earlier this year he brokered a peaceful contract extension with our members at the Peoria Journal Star — a deal which allowed the newspaper to keep its copy desk through the length of the extension.

The United Media Guild was sorry to see him leave the company. There was no doubting Dennison’s passion for the media business. With Dennison gone, we’re guessing the company will become even more committed to funneling money out of its markets at the expense of good journalism and community service.

Here is the New Media game in a nutshell:

  • The money guys behind the GateHouse chain had or acquired much of the $1 billion in debt the company ran up. Then they foreclosed on themselves, rewarding themselves with stock in the new company.
  • Freed from that debt, the company, reborn as New Media, went on a buying spree in the depressed newspaper market. It maximized cash flow from existing newspapers to fund acquisitions and pay dividends.
  • New Media targeted newspapers where it could slash staff and maximize cash flow out of those markets. Dividends went up. The stock prices soared. The money guys benefited greatly from both — and collected massive management fees on top of that.
  • Other vulture capitalists have taken note, grabbing up big chunks of stock in public stock offerings to gain access to this ATM machine. Wall Street expects the ride to continue to several years, anyway, the New Media management will keep slashing to maintain cash flow as long there is any revenue to be had.

Meanwhile communities will end up with gutted newspapers likely to suffer premature demises.

We’re advising the folks working at Halifax properties to be wary of the happytalk GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis offered up to employees:

Your reputation for journalistic excellence is inspiring to us; the Pulitzer Prize winning series in Tuscaloosa and Sarasota set a high bar. We also believe that the strength of your brands will support and add depth to our community publishing model. We look forward to partnering with you to leverage our respective strengths, so that together, we may continue our commitment to community news and service.

With this acquisition, we will operate newspapers and associated websites across 31 states in over 400 markets. We are committed to investing in our markets; recent research initiatives are informing changes to our local news products, both print and digital. We launched Propel Marketing, our fast growing digital marketing services agency, to provide a broader range of solutions for our small and mid-size business customers.

I’m certain you have many questions about benefits and the transition process; we will provide more information over the coming weeks. There is also much to share on programs and resources we can provide and collaborate on. Prior to completing the purchase, we expect to engage with your senior management team as we think about the transition and evaluate current priorities, trends and ideas.

We’re looking forward to working together!

Until you’re laid off or you quit in exasperation, that is.

Check out some recent comments former GateHouse employees left on the Glassdoor website:

“Pay is below industry standards, especially for location. Lots of turnover, low morale. Directives from national corporate are tone-deaf to regional consumers, workload of staff. Equipment and technology embarrassingly inadequate, outdated.”

“This is a turn and burn place. Everybody comes and leaves like crazy. They do not give raises and will treat you like nothing at all. The do not care at all about you. They have products that do not work and would rather sell to new customers than retain old ones. I have actually seen high ups from this company lie under oath to protect the profits of this company.”

“Many employees will do everything it takes to get their jobs done, even when they are visibly given too much to do (as the company continually cuts positions). They take their work home. They blur the lines for hours worked overtime, because management will harass them if they log any overtime hours.”