Vol XIl, Issue 25 TNG/CWA Local 31041 May 10, 2001

Belo stockholders learn of troubles in Providence
at annual meeting; Guild leaders give 3 public speeches,
confer privately with Decherd and other company brass

Two members of the Guild's executive committee yesterday told the leaders and stockholders of the Belo Corp. that the Guild is upset with the Providence Journal's approach to negotiations and wants to work toward a settlement.

After three speeches and several private conversations with Belo officials at the annual stockholders' meeting in Dallas, Brian Jones and Kerry Kohring said they believe they got their point across.

"Message received" was the final comment from Belo chairman Robert Decherd after Jones and Kohring spoke with him privately after the meeting.

Responding to the Guild speeches at the stockholders' meeting, Decherd expressed "complete confidence in [Journal publisher] Howard Sutton and his management team."

"I also make the point that it is critical to all of us to balance the financial and the journalistic direction of this company,'' Decherd told the stockholders. "We've had a spectacular experience at the Providence Journal. … We would also like to have a contract."

A few days ago, Jones wrote to Decherd requesting a private meeting while he and Kohring were in Dallas. Decherd did not respond to the letter, but he did listen when the Guild leaders approached him as he stood alone at the podium after the meeting ended around 11 a.m. yesterday morning.

"I said we really need to do something to get this resolved,'' Jones said by phone from the airplane as he and Kohring returned last night. "He understood what we were saying."

They were also pleased to learn that Decherd seemed to be aware, in some detail, of the problems in Providence, including the fact that the Guild had contacted Journal advertisers and that numerous people had left the company in the past year and a half.

Jones and Kohring were able to attend the stockholders' meeting because both own Belo stock, as does the Guild. The meeting was attended by about 300 to 400 people, Jones said, but most appeared to be corporate employees.

At a breakfast buffet before the meeting, the Guild's emissaries ran into Sutton. They told him they would like to talk about resolving the conflict. "Sutton's response was: `We have a very good offer on the table, and it's looking better in these economic times,' '' Jones said. Sutton also asserted that the company did not want to break the union and that the company had to do the best it could for the stockholders as well.

The pair approached Journal vice president Mark Ryan with the same entreaty, but Ryan said that neither he nor they were authorized to negotiate in that setting. Jones pointed out that negotiations weren't working. Ryan replied, "We had 18 sessions."

"He didn't give any encouragement,'' Jones said.

Later, Jones and Kohring buttonholed Burl Osborne, publisher of the Dallas Morning News, the Belo Corp.'s flagship newspaper. "We told him we wanted to get the thing done,'' Jones said. "He said we have to deal with Sutton. I said it wasn't working -- could he intercede? He said, `I will pass along what you said.' ''

The only order of business at the stockholders' meeting was the election of directors to their second term, including former Journal publisher Steven Hamblett. Before that came to vote, stockholders had an opportunity to speak.

Jones was one of only three people who spoke. He described the "terrible situation in Providence,'' mentioning the company's violations of federal labor laws and the loss of 55 talented employees. "We're losing people and we're losing good will," he said.

Decherd replied that the company remains focused on journalism and that the Journal had had "a spectacular year."

After the election of directors, another open comment period occurred, and Jones again spoke. He called the problems in Providence "a train wreck" and said something had gone wrong ever since Belo took over.

"We're in a civil war and we need to be working together," he said.
Kohring then spoke, urging the Belo board "to address the threat to the value of my shares and to those of everyone else in this room, by the actions of the Providence Journal Company."

Kohring noted that circulation is declining and that Journal management's actions were leading toward a consumer boycott of the newspaper.

"You have stated that `at the core of Belo's strategy are people,' … '' Kohring told Decherd, "yet the actions of Journal management have resulted in the exodus of at least 55 experienced news gatherers and advertising sales people in the last year and a half.'' He mentioned the 30 unfair labor practice charges that are "eroding the credibility of the newspaper and incurring tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.''

"The members of the Providence Newspaper Guild stand eager to cooperate in making the paper healthy and profitable,'' Kohring said, "yet the current management continues to refuse to even talk with them."

In his response to Jones's and Korhing's comments at the meeting, Decherd praised Journal management. He noted that since Belo acquired the Journal, the company reached a three-year contract with the Guild and a two-year contract with the Teamsters. He asserted that Belo has had positive labor relations elsewhere in the company.

Decherd said that the Journal circulation had increased in March and the company was hoping for continuing increases.

"We are keenly aware, thanks to the union's various publications, that a number of people have left the company,'' Decherd said, but he called it "normal turnover."

"We have been very careful to understand where these people have gone,'' he said, noting that some have gone to the Boston Globe and The New York Times.

Asked to assess the Guild's effort yesterday, Jones said that he and Kohring went onto Belo's home turf and delivered the Guild's message loud and clear. "We politely and with some restraint made the point three times that we were both upset with the course of what was going on and wanted to get it resolved,'' Jones said. "My comments were trying to say that we had a joint responsibility to get this done."

"Kerry and I are pretty pleased,'' Jones said.

"It's very likely that something like this has never happened before'' at a Belo stockholders' meeting, Jones said. He noted that Belo had intended to Webcast the meeting. "It's going to be interesting to see if they will."

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