Members of CWA media sectors
to cope with crisis
in North American industry
In the face of layoffs and bankruptcies
sweeping North America, 150 members of the newspaper, printing
and broadcast sectors of the Communications Workers of America
came together on the weekend to develop strategies for saving
the media industry.
“It was very sobering and yet inspirational
at the same time,” says Lise Lareau, president of the
Canadian Media Guild. Another 12 CMG members and representatives
of several other CWA Canada Locals attended the three-day
Future of the Media Industry conference held in Baltimore,
“We heard how people are dealing with bankruptcies,
retraining and alternative ownership. And – perhaps
most important – we heard from the front lines of the
political battle to get bills important to workers passed
through the new Obama administration in the United States.
Much of this was very applicable to our situation in Canada,
given our political landscape,” says Lareau.
"Our goal is to build hope among the members at a very
difficult time," Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper
Guild-CWA, told the conference. "I think we put together
some very solid ideas that people can take back to their
members so that there isn't a sense of despair but a real
constructive agenda." The three sectors plan to work
together on organizing and other projects.
Seminars at CWA's first-ever joint media conference tackled
such issues as organizing and bargaining in the deepening
recession, the training that media workers need to compete
in the ever-changing industry and innovative ways that employees
and employers in other industries are working together.
Many media conglomerates (Tribune, Gannett, CanWest, Quebecor)
greatly expanded over the past decade, buying up smaller
media properties and amassing huge debts in the process.
Regulators ignored warnings from community groups and unions
about this trend and the dangers more concentrated ownership
could pose. Their debts kept climbing and, despite layoffs
and content cuts, revenues have declined and the value of
their holdings has tanked. Now, the global economic crisis
has pushed some to the brink.
Lareau reports that there were several recurring themes:
Internet advertising revenue is nowhere close to offsetting
the losses in traditional publications. The recession is
exacerbating the decline in both classified and display ad
revenue and no one knows when or if that lost money will
CWA Printing Sector President Bill
Boarman said newspapers' declining advertising and circulation
revenues have created a crisis, threatening the survival
of even the United States' most successful papers. The
forum "presented us with
the opportunity to share our ideas and solutions on how best
to cope with this mess," he said.
Currently two papers with TNG-CWA and Printing Sector contracts,
the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer in Washington State, are up for sale, with no likely buyers.
Without new owners, the financially strapped newspapers are
expected to be shut down by their parent companies.
Meanwhile, newspapers across North
America are cutting staff, trimming the size of their publications,
publishing less frequently, forcing non-union staff to
take unpaid leave and even – in the case of the Chicago
Sun-Times – floating
the idea of sending 25 to 30 copy-editing and layout jobs
The broadcast industry also has been hit hard, with consolidated
ownership, shared newsrooms and rapidly changing technology
slashing broadcast jobs across the country.
"In broadcasting, we've seen our industry change almost
beyond recognition in the last couple of decades," said
NABET-CWA Vice President Jim Joyce.
"We've seen it evolve from an industry that provided
secure, long-term staff jobs to one dominated – especially
at the networks – by casual, daily-hire employment," Joyce
said. "That, coupled with the never-ending influx of
new technologies, has destabilized the workplace and undermined
the security of the workforce we represent by combining work
assignments and reducing the number of people needed to do
The participants at the conference
agreed a better way must be found to ensure the news media,
which forms one of the cornerstones of North American democracy,
“We need new capital strategies,” said CWA president
Larry Cohen in the closing speech of the conference. “We
need an investment in quality reporting and information and
to treat information as a public service.”
“We need to discuss the severing of advertising from
content,” Cohen added, suggesting a mix of public and
private funding for media properties as one of the answers. “Management
is not going to do it. It’s up to us to lead the way.”
(This is an edited compilation of reports in the CWA Newsletter
and on the Canadian
Media Guild website.)