11/21/08

The News Union: Alive and well

News writers survive red-ink, paper-stream waste, militant collectivism

When the Newspaper Guild can't keep its own newspaper going, there's a problem. Late last month, it announced The Recorder would be reduced from a monthly to bimonthly publication. In a sign of the times, the publication is saving some money by shifting more of its attention online.

"Right now the biggest thing you're fighting is the overall sense of impending doom," says Guild President Bernard Lunzer, a long-time Guild official who is in the first year of his presidency.

Some sales technique. With the industry sagging under the weight of a recoiling advertising market and the onslaught of Internet distribution, the Newspaper Guild is peddling survival. "I actually think the pendulum is swinging back in our direction in terms of people understanding they do need a voice," says Lunzer.

He hopes so. The 75-year-old union is already struggling for the resources it needs to operate. It may lose roughly $200,000 this year and that number may grow next year as layoffs continue--or as newspapers fold. Membership has already been impacted by the tough times. Lunzer says there were some 29,119 members from the U.S. and Canada in August, down from some 35,000 people in 1986. At least 2,000 people have disappeared from the Guild this year alone, he says.

But unionization may be a tough sell in an already deteriorating business environment. "I suspect this is not a good time to organize newspapers," says veteran newspaper analyst John Morton. He says newsroom anxiety is high, giving rise to fears that agitation could lead to a layoff.

That could be one reason local Newspaper Guild chapters get so many calls about organization after a round of job cuts are announced. For instance, the Newspaper Guild of New York president, William O'Meara, says roughly six recent calls have come in as a result of all the media layoffs announced in New York City.

Calling to talk about unionization--a lengthy process--after layoffs are announced is too late, he says. The Guild can give some advice about rights during a layoff, but he says it has a stronger position in renegotiating existing contracts to find cost savings. For instance, his chapter is now pitching its ability to reduce health care costs for some unionized employees by putting people on the plan of its larger sibling, the Communications Workers of America.

(forbes.com)

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