Amid fears of “digital first” cuts, union protests five-year wage freeze at Advance Publications’ Jersey Journal

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An inflated, cigar-smoking pig – clearly directed at Advance Publications’ billionaire Newhouse family – outside of the Advance-owned Jersey Journal in advance of a scheduled union protest this afternoon. Photo via http://www.politico.com/media/story/2014/01/protest-at-jersey-journals-new-offices-001501

Unionized employees of the 146-year-old Advance Publications-owned Jersey Journal across the Hudson River from Manhattan, demonstrated outside its just-opened new offices in Secaucus, N.J., this afternoon, protesting a five-year wage freeze.

“We’re not blind to the issues facing the publishing industry, the newspaper industry,” Bill O’Meara, president, New York Newspaper Guild, local 31003, said from his Manhattan office after the rally. “We understand the pressures they’re under, but these people aren’t being reasonable. Not any kind of raise in five years is just crazy. It’s time to do right by them.” Local 31003 represents the Jersey Journal newsroom and nearly 3,000 additional newspaper employees, including those at The New York Times.

Capital New York’s media reporter Joe Pompeo  reported that a PR firm representing the union released a statement saying that Advance/Jersey Journal “executives are refusing to bargain over reasonable wage increases” even as “the newsstand price of the paper has increased 100% and the paper’s headquarters was sold for $2.8 million.”

Reports on the companion website of Advance’s 10 New Jersey newspapers, NJ.com, announced the opening of the new office, but did not mention the planned protest. Neither report disclosed what the company paid for the new facility. The new offices replaced the newspaper’s historic headquarters in neighboring Jersey City that gave the “Journal Square” neighborhood its name.

The Newspaper Guild represents just eight of the Journal’s roughly 100 staffers, Capital  reported. About two-dozen of those employees work in the newsroom. The guild’s contract has been in dispute for a year, according to the alt-weekly. Capital quoted a unnamed reporter saying that starting newsroom salaries are less than $50,000 annually, not much in hyper-expensive metro New York.

Jim Romenesko, who beat Capital with the story of the protest by about an hour, reported on his blog that the guild has asked for a four-year contract with 3 percent annual raises, but the Journal’s publisher has rejected all proposals including wage increases.

Advance exec Richard Diamond, to whom Journal Publisher Kenneth Whitfield directed Pompeo’s call, did not respond for comment, although he was apparently in the newspaper’s new building at the time. Whitfield did not respond to Romenesko.

Capital has reported that employees of the company’s New Jersey newspapers, led by Advance’s flagship Newark Star-Ledger, are on edge, fearing the company plans to roll out “digital first” in the Garden State, as it has at 16 of its newspapers from Portland, Ore., to Mobile, Ala. Research I did for my book indicated that Advance has eliminated more than 1,600 jobs since launching digital first in Michigan in 2009.

Newspapers that have sustained deep staff reductions include eight dailies in Michigan, led by the Grand Rapids Herald- Review; The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; three newspapers in Alabama (The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press Register); the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News; The Post-Herald of Syracuse, N.Y.; the Cleveland Plain-Dealer; and The Oregonian of Portland.)

The protest comes less than two weeks after eight laid-off employees at The Times-Picayune filed suit against the newspaper and Advance, alleging their layoffs in October 2012 violated federal age discrimination laws and the company’s once-revered job security Pledge. Read more about The Pledge and the lawsuits by clicking here and here.

Is year-end assessment by NOLA Media Group prez a preemptive strike ahead of USA Today report?

ToOurReaders_RickyMathewsHEADLINE2013Dec22

1/6/2014, 2:50 PM CST: Information about the disappearing NOLA.com blog post about the click bait AntHillArt.com’s affect on NOLA.com’s traffic below in red and underline..

12/24/13 5:59 PM CST: Additional information via a sharp-eyed insider below in red and underline.

12/23/13, 12:37 CST: Clarification to the original post added below in red and underlined type.

As USA Today media reporter Roger J. Yu concluded a reporting trip to New Orleans for an upcoming article about the extraordinary newspaper war now raging there, NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews Sunday published a year-end recap to readers.

The timing of Mathews’ missive, vis–à–vis Yu’s visit, is suggestive of the preemptive strike

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NMG Vice President of Content and Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss penned almost exactly one year ago. Amoss’ commentary came a day before a long-anticipated “60 Minutes” segment aired about the poorly executed transformation of the then-175-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper into a “digital first” enterprise.)

Despite NMG’s fierce focus for the past year-and-a-half on NOLA.com, Mathews’ commentary was not available on the website, but only via the printed newspaper and the e-edition. (A PDF of it, downloaded from the e-edition, can be accessed by clicking this link: ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22.) (CLARIFICATION, 12/23/13: Although it didn’t appear on NOLA.com, Mathews’ letter can be found at NOLA Media Group’s corporate site at http://www.nolamediagroup.com/about/, and on page A14 of the newspaper’s Dec. 22 print edition.)

Clocking in at 844 words (about half the length of a banner, front-page commentary directed at readers shortly after he assumed the top spot in the summer of 2012), Mathew opened his latest dispatch with a glowing account of what was at stake when digital first began, and what has been accomplished:

A little more than a year ago, we stepped boldly into the rapidly changing digital world. Our future as a viable news entity was at stake. We launched a new approach to delivering news and connecting our readers with our advertisers.

 

As we approach the end of the first year of operation in our new world, we are well on our way toward assuring our long-term ability to provide vital news and world-class advertising solutions to the communities we proudly serve.

Mathews full-page letter detailed major editorial projects undertaken by NMG in the past year, including wall-to-wall coverage of the 2013 Super Bowl (held at the Louisiana Superdome) and all of the fun and frivolity surrounding it; breaking news coverage of a horrific Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans; and an investigative series with TV partner WVUE for which an online, reader-accessible database of campaign contributions was created.

He went on to say that home delivery of the newspaper “has grown for four (soon to be five) consecutive months, and we are reaching more than 500,000 readers in print each week.” (For the six months ending Sept. 30, the most recent report the newspaper filed with industry auditing group Alliance for Audited Media, The Times-Picayune reported an average print circulation of 130,881 on Sundays, 115,499 on Wednesdays, and 115,877 on Fridays, the three days of the week it now publishes. That totals to 362,257 for the average week during that period.)

Mathews reported that NOLA.com’s website audience grew to more than 4.5 million unique users a month, with more than 2 million accessing the site or its apps through smart phones and tablets. (NMG had 2.6 million unique users during the month of September – again the most recent numbers available – according to the latest AAM report the company filed. ADDITIONAL INFO: Nationally recognized web analytics company Quantcast, reported the NOLA had the following unique users Nov. 23-Dec. 22. Although Mathews did not specify a time frame for his figure, the latest Quantcast number of 5.9 million is significantly higher than Mathews’ stat:

TOTAL Web

5,853,704

Mobile

2,887,086

Online

2,966,618

Source: Quantcast

ADDITIONAL INFO #2, 12/24/13: A sharp-eyed reader alerted me that NOLA.com’s past unique visitor figures cited above via Quantcast were anomalously inflated by an aggregated video  courtesy of a site called AntHillArt.com. NOLA.com acknowledged the click-bait generated 1.3 million page views in 30 hours, “which at least Ricky Mathews was honest enough not to claim” in the stats he cited in his reader letter, my tipster noted. According to Quantcast, NOLA.com attracted 3.7 million unique visitors and 22 million page views during the month of November, the most-recent full calendar month for which statistics are available.

Additional INFO #3, 1/6/14: Sometime after my 12/24/13 update (above) went live, the link on the NOLA.com blog post acknowledging the AnHillArt.com click bait was disabled. (It apparently was on a publicly available section of the site, but intended primarily for internal audiences.) You can read a screen grab of the original post by clicking here.

Mathews also reported that NMG’s newly beefed-up offerings in Baton Rouge – including a substantially larger staff there, the ability for NOLA.com readers to specifically choose to view news from that community, and a weekly entertainment tab named BR – has resulted in a 40% larger audience in the state capital in the past year.

NMG’s online offerings have been the target of criticism and derision, but Mathews reports they’ve improved considerably:

We have made dramatic improvements to the digital experience for our readers across all platforms, with new photo galleries and improved video players; responsive design that allows easy reading whether on tablet, desktop or phone; and state-of-the-art commenting systems that allow for real-time conversations among our writers and readers.

Mathews also boasts of employing more than 1,000 employees and independent contractors through NOLA Media Group and Advance Central Services Louisiana, the two companies corporate owner Advance Publications formed when “digital first” was implemented. (NOLA Media Group is the online newsgathering arm, while ACS oversees everything related to the printing and distribution of the newspaper, along with HR. the print edition and its support services, including printing and delivery.) The newspaper’s total full-time employee (e.g., those receiving full-time wages and benefits) headcount dropped 30% after “digital first,” and a number of undisclosed independent contractor newspaper carriers also lost their routes. The newsroom has made some hires since the transformation, but the organization now employs more freelancers and stringers on a contractual basis since the changes, so it’s unclear exactly what portion of that 1,000 are full-time employees. Based on figures I compiled for my book and those disclosed by NOLA Media Group, full-time employees with benefits probably now total between 550 and 600.

ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22_IMAGE

Imagery that accompanied Ricky Mathews’ Dec. 22, 2013 letter “To Our Readers”

Seven former T-P employees laid off in “digital first” sue newspaper, parent company

age_discrimination_cartoonSeven former T-P employees who were among the more than 200 who lost their jobs in 2012 because of the radical “digital first” restructuring Advance Publications undertook at the newspaper and more than a dozen others it owns across the country, filed suit this week against the companies. The suits allege age discrimination and illegal employment practices. They were filed in Orleans Parish District Court.NOLADefender_Logo

You may read my story about the suit, published by NOLA Defender, at this link.

New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde weighs in again on the book

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New Orleans Magazine Associate Publisher and Editor Errol Laborde

New Orleans Magazine Associate Publisher and Editor Errol Laborde has been generous with his time (while I was writing the book), valuable real estate (in the pages of the magazine) and with his praise (first, a few weeks ago, on “Informed Sources,” the public television show he produces on New Orleans’ WYES-TV, and now on the magazine’s blog).

Sometimes a person is just having a routine day at the office, going through the usual motions, perhaps thinking of what to get for supper, and then BAM! something happens that suddenly bounces a life in a new direction.

That happened last year to Rebecca Theim a former reporter for The Times-Picayune (1988- ’94) who has most recently been living and working in Las Vegas. When she heard about The T-P being reduced to thrice weekly and about the accompanying layoffs, she was outraged. Being separated by distance she could have easily been justified for doing nothing, instead she got into action. She founded a group that raised money to divide among the terminated employees. She also uncorked her reporting skills and began following the story as a journalist.

One day when media historians study what the Newhouses did to journalism, Theim (pronounced “theme”) will be an important source, perhaps the most important. Now we are seeing the results of her work … The publication is an excellent, at times riveting, bit of reporting put together in an amazingly short time.

– Errol Laborde’s Oct. 7 column on MyNewOrleans.com, the blog of New Orleans Magazine

You may read the rest of Errol’s column by clicking here.

First review of the book, in Louisiana’s The Advocate

The Advocate, the former Baton Rouge newspaper acquired by New Orleans billionaire AdvocateAppIconJohn Georges, who has continued its fledgling expansion into New Orleans in a big way, is a supporting character in my book, and by anyone’s admission, far from an objective observer in the New Orleans media landscape. That’s no doubt why the daily newspaper went to Andrew Burstein, LSU’s Charles B. Manship Professor of History, and commissioned him to review my book.

Burstein, a noted Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson scholar, tells me in an email that, “My main attachment to Louisiana politics and culture is of the era when Thomas Jefferson was weighing the strategic significance of the Mississippi River. I could read your book with objectivity because I had no idea who any of the players were, many of whom now work at the Advocate.”

“Rebecca Theim, who worked for the paper from 1988 to 1994 and now lives in Las Vegas, narrates the story of the paper’s demise with clear compassion and in journalistic detail — while wielding a pen as mighty as any sword … This is a book with attitude.”

LSU historian Andrew Burstein’s review of
Hell and High Water

You may read the remainder of the review by clicking here.

Via Poynter, my take on post-daily newspaper mediascape in NOLA, Alabama

I freelanced a lengthy (for the Web, but nothing after writing a book) take on the fractured media landscapes at The Times-Picayune and the three Advance Publications’ newspapers in Alabama.

You may read the report by clicking here.

New Orleans Magazine, Weld for Birmingham excerpt the book

Coinciding with the first anniversary of the “digital first” changes in New Orleans and Alabama, NeNOM_Oct2013w Orleans Magazine and Birmingham, Alabama’s alternative weekly, Weld for Birmingham, publish excerpts from the book.

Read the New Orleans Magazine excerpt by clicking here.

Read the Weld for Birmingham excerpt (which is differeWeldForBham_Logont from the one published by NOM) by clicking here.

Birmingham media consultant Wade Kwon emailed me this evening to inform me that I provided an outdated title for him, and erroneously used “of” instead of “for” in a reference to Weld for Birmingham. Thanks for pointing out the errors, Wade, and I’ll make sure they’re corrected in any subsequent editions

Threat by Newark Star-Ledger publisher to close paper defused by contract settlements

The Star-Ledger, Advance Publication’s largest newspaper, reached a deal with its unions Wednesday night ahead of last Friday’s contract deadline. (Image via NJ.com)

Richard Vezza, publisher of the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger, Advance Publications’ largest newspaper, last summer threatened to close the newspaper if the company did not receive major concessions from the paper’s four unions. The unions and the newspaper last week reached contract agreements that keep the newspaper publishing, which union president Ed Shown acknowledged involved “a lot of painful and hard decisions.”

I had interviewed Shown in late June for my book, who was confident then that the paper would not close and that a contract agreement would be reached by the end of September. He made his deadline.

Read about the details – and the rather telling deletion of a quote from the newspaper’s publisher that mysteriously disappeared from the NJ.com’s online reports – in my book, in bookstores the week of Oct. 13.

“Digital First” has been very good to Advance Publications’ Donald Newhouse

Donald Newhouse in 2005 in the newsroom of the Newark Star-Ledger, Advance Publications’ largest newspaper. (Image via NJ.com)

As I note in the Epilogue of Hell and High Water, information surfaced shortly after I began writing the book that Advance Publications’ “digital first” initiative appears to have  beenvery good to Advance exec Donald Newhouse. Between September 2012—when the carnage began at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and three Newhouse-owned newspapers in Alabama—and March 2013, the value of Donald Newhouse’s and his brother’s fortunes grew an estimated $1.4 billion, to $15.4 billion, Forbes magazine reported. The Newhouse fortune has continued to climb, according to Forbes‘ latest list of the 400 Richest Americans: it now stands at an estimated $17.1 billion, $8.9 billion belonging to Si Newhouse, and $8.2 billion credited to Donald. (Poynter.org’s Andrew Beaujon reported the new rankings.)

Although I calculated that digital first has been responsible for the loss at least 1,600 full-time jobs to-date at Newhouse newspapers nationwide (and countless part-time, freelance and contractor positions), the initiative has been very good to the Brothers Newhouse.