A thunderous speech from CWA President Larry Cohen, a meticulous by-the-numbers look at the news industry, past, present and future, and success stories from locals were among the first-day highlights of the Guild conference underway in Orlando.
Cohen, who is retiring in June, received standing ovations Thursday at the beginning and end of his remarks, in which he praised the Guild for being a vital part of CWA and for fighting for First Amendment principles that matter to all Americans.
“This notion of democracy, a key part of it is journalism — the ability to investigate and write stories,” Cohen said. “What happens to journalism and to everyone in this room matters to our democracies and to our communities.”
About the Guild’s role in CWA, Cohen said that in looking from the dais to the audience, “I see a huge chunk of the leadership of our union.” He specifically thanked CWA board members and
New York Guild President Bill O’Meara for his long and valuable service to the union’s Defense Fund Oversight Committee.
In typically impassioned form, Cohen went on to discuss jobs, wages, fair trade and how vast income inequality is toxic to democracy. He discussed his movement-building mission and how creating a broad coalition of like-minded organizations — unions, social justice activists, the faith community, environmentalists and others — is the only way to build a force powerful enough to overcome the influence of corporations and billionaires on American politics.
Honoring Cohen’s commitment to movement-building, a pursuit he will continue beyond CWA, the Guild announced that it is creating the “Larry Cohen Movement-Building Award.” It will be awarded every two years at sector conferences to members or local staff who do the most to strengthen the Guild’s ties to the larger struggle for social and economic justice.
Starting the conference on an upbeat note , Guild members from Sheboygan, the St. Louis-based United Media Guild and Pittsburgh shared stories of struggles that led to success.
Sheboygan President Janet Weyandt and Detroit Administrative Officer Lou Grieco discussed beating back a decertification attempt at the small-but-growing Wisconsin local. Weyandt thanked the international Guild and the Detroit local for freeing Grieco to help with the campaign. In the end, the people behind the attempt swayed no one else to their side.
In the vein of movement-building, UMG President Jeff Gordon described how Gatehouse units in his local and other locals as far away as New England were banding together to fight for raises, job security and other aspects of a fair contract.
Pittsburgh 1st Vice President Ed Blazino told delegates how the local had finally won a contract after more than eight years without raises. Overwhelmingly ratified, the contract is the first since 2006 without concessions. Blazino noted that bosses balked at first when the local wanted to serve pies in the newsroom — a campaign statement about getting “our piece of the pie” — but changed their minds when members said they’d serve it on the sidewalk outside.
Guild International Chair Martha Waggoner also spoke of successes, telling delegates that “We in the union and in the greater progressive movement have had plenty to lift our spirits recently.” She noted CWA’s major organizing victory, bringing into the union14,000 American Airlines agents, mostly located in southern states. And several recent National Labor Relations Board rulings have been favorable for unions, such as affirming the right of workers to use employer email to discuss workplace issues and organizing.
The successes helped balance a day that largely focused on the media industry’s troubles and changes and the workers caught in the middle.
TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer stressed that it is journalists themselves who must save journalism.
“It is our job – those of us who care about media, journalism, reliable information – it is for us to force choices that are both sustainable and sufficient, “Lunzer said. “I’ve said this many times –
no one else will do it. The purveyors of the craft must protect it. It’s why guilds were formed. And, we are a modern Guild – fighting to sustain a craft in a world that has declared information is free.
“Yes – we support free speech,” he continued. “We love the web – many of our organizations were some of the very first to have web sites. Opinions aplenty, and a place to shout at the world. But good, old-fashioned sourced-journalism, researched, fact-checked, edited – there is no replacement for that.”
CWA Canada Director Martin O’Hanlon said 2014 was another year of damaging cuts affecting members, with the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) the hardest hit.
“In Halifax, a proud and vibrant newsroom was stunned and battered by deep cuts that came with no warning, empathy or delicacy,” O’Hanlon said. “At the CBC, we are losing hundreds of colleagues and unless we get a government that will provide adequate funding, the survival of our public broadcaster is in doubt.”
But members, by joining the fight and bringing citizens on board, can change that. “As we begin 2015, I remain confident that things will improve, but we can’t just sit back and hope,” he said. “We must stand up for jobs and journalism, and we must build a movement for social and economic justice. After all, if we don’t, who will?”
Both the gloom and the hope from Thursday’s speakers was reflected in the afternoon presentation by analyst and “Newsonomics” columnist Ken Doctor, whose number-crunching offered good and bad news.
On the one hand, to no one’s surprise, print is on a “permanent downward spiral.” Newspapers, which failed spectacularly to react effectively to the digital revolution, are valued at 5 to 10
percent of what they could have sold for a decade earlier. New owners determined to cut costs, and job, have brought costs down about 25 percent, while profits go up. Meanwhile, “reader credibility takes a hit,” Doctor said.
The better news is that new web-based models for news gathering and reporting are putting 60 to 70 percent of their budgets into content. For most newspapers, the percentage is closer to 12.5. New models spend about 15 percent for sals, 5 percent for audience analysis and about 5 percent for management.
“Look how different that is from any kind of legacy publishing company,” Doctor said. The strategy is “how do I create as much content as I can at as low a cost as possible?”
Doctor stressed that “mobile,” via smartphones and tablets, is rapidly becoming the primary way that most people access content online. “The age of mobile majority is upon us,” he said. Right now, about 55 percent of time online is via desktop, 30 percent on smartphones and 15 percent on laptops. Within five years, however, he said desktop use will have fallen to 25 percent.
At the same time, hours online will soar. In the TV-age of 1975, Americans spent 16 hours a week in front of a screen. Teenagers today average 70 hours of screen time weekly. By 2018, the average for everyone will be 55 hours a week. Newspapers and all new news models have to understand that and be on board to survive.
Thursday night was capped with a banquet, but a half hour beforehand, Guild members crowded into a small conference room to listen to Cohen and other speakers on CWA’s monthly Town Hall phone call.
Announcing he was live from Orlando and surrounded by Guild members, the room exploded in applause and cheers that were heard by listeners from coast to coast.