Editor’s note: Digital First Media announced on Sept. 12 that it will consider a sale of part or all of its assets.
This is first in our series: FIRE THE OWNERS
Employees at the Bay Area News Group are rebelling against their current ownership, calling for the sale of newspapers including the San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune to more community-minded owners.
Staff members and their union, The Newspaper Guild-CWA and local affiliates including the San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild, are spreading the message on Twitter and Facebook that we are looking for somebody to rescue our news organizations from the ravages of runaway cost-cutting.
Until attitudes or ownership changes, little headway is expected in negotiations for fair pay and benefit terms. Contract talks have been stalled for months in the East Bay, while a difficult round of bargaining is about to begin in San Jose.
Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund, owns the BANG-East Bay, Mercury News and 60-plus other news organizations in the Media News Group/Digital First empire. In a statement distributed throughout Guild ranks and social media, employees claimed Alden “has presided over a steady decline of the once-proud newspapers amid a challenging time for journalism.”
The hedge fund reportedly has been shopping the newspapers and their associated websites, but so far no buyers have stepped forward publicly. Employee representatives said the Guild and its members would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with a new owner to restore “quality jobs and quality journalism.”
“The future of journalism is too important to leave in the hands of distant investors who fail to grasp that investing in better news products is also good business,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild. “These papers are profitable, and they can remain so, but cutting costs is not a long-term business strategy.”
Besides the Bay Area employees, staff members at the Denver Post, St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Trentonian and the Delaware County Daily Times, and many other papers also joined in the campaign, which included local ads placed on social media sites.
“Dear deep-pocketed, local community benefactor,” one such ad begins, “A longtime newspaper, with more than 100 years of history and multiple Pulitzer Prizes, is looking for an owner who cares about Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Empire. The current owner, a hedge fund out of New York City, refuses to open its purse strings and reward employees with much needed raises.”
An ad posted by the San Francisco-based Guild local was styled as an old-fashioned classified ad under the headline, “WANTED: NEW OWNER.”
The ad text reads: “Employees of your community’s newspaper want a new attitude respecting quality jobs & quality journalism on the part of ownership. And if the attitude won’t change, maybe the ownership should.”
Employees claimed the MediaNews/Digital First news organizations “operate in the black but benefit little from the revenues they generate.” Rather than investing in better journalism or customer service, owner Alden Global Capital “has sold off presses, offices and properties, extracting the proceeds.”
Sale of the San Jose Mercury News property generated $30.5 million –– just one of 67 newspaper properties Alden has sold. The sale of the Monterey Herald site generated $5.7 million. Seventy more properties are on the market. Yet staff reductions in Monterey, San Jose, Walnut Creek, San Mateo, Oakland and elsewhere continue.
Newsroom staffing in the Herald has shrunk to half what it was just 10 years ago. Staffing in the Bay Area News Group has shrunk to one-quarter what it was 14 years ago. Meanwhile, employees have gone six years without a raise and endured cuts in salaries, benefits, vacation and even in basic equipment and materials needed to perform our jobs.
Owner intransigence is responsible for a continuing exodus of dedicated journalists, a loss of institutional knowledge and a vastly constricted ability to provide coverage of our communities and vital issues.
The employee statement continued:
“Journalists at these papers hope that local stewardship will reverse this decline and help realize the full potential of our newspapers.
We, who remain committed to our profession and our communities, are making this appeal in coordination with frustrated colleagues at other newspapers across the country owned by Alden.
We believe that an innovative, forward-thinking buyer will realize the need to invest in the coverage and services – both digital and print – that our communities require and deserve. We sincerely hope interested investors will step forward and partner with us in helping revive a healthy and robust press for our communities.
Please contact the Pacific Media Workers Guild at (415) 421-6833 if you have information to help us. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
JOIN US IN SOLIDARITY IN A TWITTER ACTION ON MONDAY. DETAILS:
On Facebook & Twitter, please change your profile picture to the Ad above.
To help get the message out and increase our presence on social media, please post the following tweets at these times:
Wanted: New owners for our papers http://ctt.ec/VADew+ We’ve had enough of @digitalfirst, Alden Global Capital. #DFM #newsmatters
Click here to tweet now
11am: Save our newspaper: Buy it! http://ctt.ec/dxaBh+ #DFM #newsmatters
Click here to tweet now
1pm: Wanted: Deep-pocketed community benefactor to save local newspaper (link to ad). #DFM #newsmatters
Click here to tweet now
3pm: We’re firing our employer for poor performance. Know someone who’d like to own a newspaper? #newsmatters #DFM http://ctt.ec/03fA3+
Click here to tweet now
Please feel free to go further such as sharing the Guild’s facebook post, or posting the picture other places as well. And don’t forget to update your Facebook status.
First in series: Wanted: Local buyers for hedge fund-owned papers
Second in series: Guild news staffs launch effort to resuscitate journalism
Fourth in series: Fiscal challenges led to diminished San Mateo Times
Current press about this action:
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/business/media/owner-of-dozens-of-newspapers-seeks-buyers.html?_r=1
SF Weekly: http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2014/09/08/bay-area-journalists-circulate-ad-in-search-of-better-newspaper-owners
Jim Romenesko: http://jimromenesko.com/2014/09/08/morning-report-for-september-8-2014/
Editor & Publisher: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/TopStories/Article/Guild-Campaign-Seeks-New-Owners-for-Digital-First-Papers
KPFA Pacifica WorkWeek interviews CWA Pacifica Media Workers Bay Area
News Group East Bay Chair George Kelly about the national CWA Newspaper
Guild campaign to get new bosses at newspapers run by hedge funds. He discusses the
conditions of newspaper workers and the threats to news and journalism
by hedge fund ownership. This interview was done on 9/9/14.
Production of WorkWeek Radio
Silicon Valley Business Journal: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2014/09/12/mercury-news-parent-company-ponders-sale-who-might.html?surround=etf&ana=e_article&page=all
Denver press: http://www.newsguild.org/news/denvers-westword-gives-guilds-df-campaign-big-play
Denver press: http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2014/09/denver_post_new_owner_denver_newspaper_guild.php