Vol XI, No. 69 TNG/CWA Local 31041 October 27, 2000




Recession-style cutbacks appear to be in the works at The Providence Journal, despite robust prosperity both at the newspaper and throughout southeastern New England.

To comply with a cost-cutting edict from its Dallas owners, management of the Journal is considering eliminating the Monday local news section, regional editors in the Journal's six local news bureaus have been told.

Some vacancies are also going unfilled in the advertising department, and the union is aware of reports that the physical size of the paper itself may be trimmed, in the same way that the Boston Globe has already done.

These plans are being discussed as a way of as a way of saving money in anticipation of an increase in newsprint costs.

Yet discussion of chopping local news from five days a week to four, and other cost-trimming schemes come after the paper's ad salespeople were told that the Journal is $2 million ahead of its revenue projections for the year -- and that is before the Christmas advertising season has begun.

The New York Times reported this week that A.H. Belo is among media companies increasingly concerned whether Wall Street investors are satisfied with their already high profit margins.

For example, The Times said that 5 to 7 percent budget cuts are being talked about at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News because corporate owners want to get profit margins up from 19 percent to 21 percent.

The potential cutbacks at The Journal seem to be part of a pattern. Since Dallas-based Belo took over the Journal in 1997, it has whittled away at the Journal's reporting staff.

Downtown vacancies have been filled, but in some cases the reporters who were promoted to fill those slots have not been replaced.

The butcher bill for 2001 will be three reporter positions (five are already vacant) and three two-year intern slots. The plan to leave the intern positions unfilled is particularly galling, especially considering that the money one of the Journal's anti-labor lawyers makes in two hours is about the pay that a two-year intern earns in week.

The state staff is starved to where it is not unusual to have bureaus empty of reporters until 3 p.m. Regional editors responsible for covering anywhere from 6 to 11 towns may have only one reporter working a day. In some cases bureaus have had to get by on two reporters for a week.

If it happens, dropping local news on Mondays would be an abandonment of the paper's much ballyhooed local news commitment, the centerpiece of the paper's marketing strategy for the past decade.

It will be hard to sell the Journal as a hometown news source at the same time the company is cutting back on that news by 20 percent.

It also demonstrates why we have to get a good contract. If Belo and its current management are left to their own devices, they will cut pay and benefits to the bone, again in the name of short-term gains that will, in the long run, water down the newspaper.

A strong Guild and a good contract will not only protect us, it will protect this paper. It will mean that there will be some people here who are interested in protecting the quality of an institution they have known for decades, not a 'property' to be bled dry for short-term profit.

Keane, Becker to lay boycott groundwork; membership will be asked for green light at start

The Guild's plans for a circulation boycott of the Journal are moving ahead on two fronts:

The executive committee voted Monday to schedule a membership vote that would put the boycott into effect, after the groundwork -- the boycott pledge drive -- has been completed and the union leadership determines that the action is needed.

At the same time, two veterans of the Guild, Frank E. Keane and Irwin N. Becker, have agreed to work as temporary staff members to help prepare for the possible boycott.

Keane was president of the Guild during the 1973 strike, and is regarded as one of the union's major leaders. A former copy editor and desk chief, Keane retired several years ago and now is a copy editor for the Providence Business News and an instructor at Bristol Community College in Fall River.

Becker was a Guild activist and sparkplug during the 1973 strike. He was one of three strikers the company attempted to fire after the 13-day walkout. The Guild won him a cash settlement and the rescinding of his termination. Becker later went on to a number of social-justice leadership positions in Rhode Island, and recently retired as director of a non-profit housing agency serving Providence's Elmwood neighborhood.

No date was set for a membership meeting that will be asked to give the boycott the green light.

However, the executive committee felt it is important that the membership be asked for final approval of the action, given its importance.

The vote will be scheduled when the foundation has been put in place for a boycott, and when the executive committee and the negotiating committee feel the time is right to recommend the action to the members.

Meanwhile, preparations for a boycott are moving forward, as the Guild works with the 80,000-member AFL-CIO, to distribute pledge cards to union workers and their families in which they would promise to support a sales boycott if one is called.

The executive committee has launched boycott preparations as part of its effort to bring contract negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Those signing cards would pledge not to buy the paper if a boycott is declared. After the boycott, the Guild would restart the subscriptions and contact each customer, asking him or her to resume buying the paper.

The work is a classic grassroots effort, in which boycott materials must be put in the hands of union members from Westerly to Woonsocket, and efforts coordinated between Guild volunteers and members of unions supporting the Guild.

The executive committee felt it would help to have some full-time staff work to move this process along, especially since many of the tasks involve weekday work when many Guild members are themselves on the job.

The union had planned to have some of its own members take Guild leaves from the company, with the Guild replacing their salaries.

However, the company rejected one member's request to take two days off each week, and proposed a one-day-a-week absence instead.

The Guild believes the company's move is a serious violation of the contract, which requires the Company to provide union leaves.

The union has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, and feels it is important to defend the leave portion of the contract.



Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495