Union-owned Media

(From my blog, Planting Liberally)

The Boston Globe reported yesterday on the Newspaper Guild's possible buyout of several Knight-Ridder papers, in the wake of a shareholder move to force the newspaper chain to explore a sale.  The Newspaper Guild is part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

What does this buyout mean for workers, and for the media audience generally?  More on the flip...

CWA's watchdog site, http://www.knightridderwatch.org/, is awash with news of the buyout.  It's clear from the union's frequently asked questions document (Word doc) that CWA considers its prime motivation that of preserving jobs, and its employee-ownership bid is meant to forward that goal.  Most of the focus, from CWA's point of view, is on the techincalities of forming an Employee Stock Ownership Plan to allow Knight-Ridder employees to share ownership in the company.  The union has bid for nine of the 32 KR newspapers, opting to bid for the aggregated resources of all of KR's unionized papers.

But there is an interesting pattern to note in the papers under consideration:


The nine newspapers identified by the union as potential targets are the San Jose Mercury News, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Duluth News Tribune, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Monterey Herald and the Grand Forks Herald.

A pretty fair number of those papers are in swing states.  And while that is probably a coincidence, we can't help but consider the content ramifications of a union-owned newspaper.  What will the editorial page be like?  What about the reporting?  Will these papers tussle over stories with the corporate-owned media in the same markets?  Will the greater diversity of opinion, if it pans out, help shape the debate in those localities?

Understandably, CWA is holding off on addressing these questions, since it wants to attract the broadest possible swath of investors.  But it's hard to imagine that there isn't some internal excitement over the ability to shape public opinion over local labor-related stories, at the bare minimum.

The emergence of union-held mass media is an exciting possibility, because it holds the potential to rival or surpass the conservative religious media empire.  Organizations like Workers Independent News are doing a great job of laying the foundation for such an empire, but much more needs to be done.  CWA's efforts should be loudly commended, and other unions - even across the AFL-CIO/Change to Win rift - should enthusiastically join in.

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Comments

10 Comments

Newspapers are dying...
Newspapers are dying, what difference does it make.

If unions buy out these newspapers it'll just be another example of a large corporation screwing working people.  These papers are for sale because they are flat broke.  Readership falls and falls, and gets older and older (younger newsreaders get their news on the internet).  Advertisers are abandoning newspapers in droves.

Please!  Someone warn these workers not to foolishly buy these newspapers and start training for another career...

by Blue Dreams 2005-12-23 10:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Newspapers are dying...
Readership is falling. That is true.

But newspaper profits are regularly at 20%. That's pretty damn good for any business. It's just that for the newspapers that are publicly owned, the retarded Wall Street ethic is that profits must continually be increasing ad infinitum. Newspapers are still a highly profitable business.

And here's another question though, where do newsreaders from the internet get their news? If they get them from newsites, those are still newspapers. If they get them from blogs (like this one), the vast majority of "news" comes from newspapers as well. Not only are newspapers not dead, they are vital for gathering and reporting information.

by adamterando 2005-12-23 12:21PM | 0 recs
Shareholders are the problem
Because the shares of newspapers are adjusted to a 20% profit margin, newspapers are locked in to an unreasonable 20% profit margin to maintain their historic rate of return to shareholders.

If a union could take the newspapers private and retain that 20% margin for an ESOP, the workers would enjoy higher wages, better benefits and a stronger pension plan. They would receive the entire fruit of their labor, instead of sending 20% to Wall Street.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-12-23 04:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Shareholders are the problem
They aren't dead, they just smell funny.

Last summer they woke up and got with it on the IT front which in most cases gives them an international audience on even local stories.  Which in turn gives them much greater revenue earning potential.

It takes a while for this stuff to actually make it into the brains of the old school.

by goplies 2005-12-24 10:31PM | 0 recs
Outstanding news!
It would be a feather in the union's cap if they could pull this off. Swing state voters would finally be able to get some real news delivered to their doorstep, instead of the usual M$M blather.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-12-23 10:53AM | 0 recs
Union Pension Funds
I would hope that some of the larger pension funds around the country could band together and actually fund a full buyout.  Speculation of a possible $6 billion for the entire chain should not be beyond the reach of a consortium of large pension plans.  These properties are making money, just not enough money to satisfy the greed head minority shareholders.  Good luck to the CWA.
by Demo Dan in Dayton 2005-12-23 02:08PM | 0 recs
Suprise! Unions Don't control Union Pension Funds
The pension funds were severed from union control many years ago.  They now invest in things like Wal-Mart.  Kind of Self Defeating.  If these funds were free to follow a social conscience program, unions would be much better off and the middle class would be larger.  
by NvDem 2005-12-24 07:48AM | 0 recs
I Rely On Remote Viewing, Myself.
Just kidding. Or almost just kidding. I seem to have this weird knack for finding just the right hedgerows to peek through. Some times I think I am surrounded by people who are sort of brain-dead. Other times I am sure of it. I am well aware that people just hate my attitude. But the reality is that they would be far better off to just listen to my ravings. If you listen to them for long enough, they will begin to make sense. The thing that really amazes me is that people just accept the concept of "journalism." I keep hearing this concept that bloggers are like pilot fish on the plush bellies of a media shark. But this concept is totally dependent on the notion that this media shark has to actually hunt for a living. If the "information" we receive from the big media outlets is compromised, distorted, or blind-sided, then -- abracadabra! -- the blogs become crucially important again. Worker-owned newspapers would benefit greatly from the now-ubiquitous tacit assumption that the traditional mindsucking media machine is completely unreliable, since it would offer at least a tiny glimmer of the hope of seeing some light shed. So, as bloggers, if we want things like worker-owned newspapers to happen, we should keep hacking away at the few remaining shreds of credibility of the traditional mindsucking media machine. The downside of that strategy is that it only reinforces the conditioned helplessness of a public that has become inured to its own deception. The duct-tape blogs, like prisonplanet (dot) com, wingtv (dot) net, and breakfornews (dot) com, exist for a reason. (The latter, newest, one is pretty liberal.) My favorites are the indymedia (dot) org, and idnymedia (dot) "etc." sites. 'Cause their servers are always getting seized, and they are always doing wild stunts to save whales and stuff. In the final analysis, only the messianic approach has any chance of working. You hack away at the empire, and keep pointing to that messiah somewhere up ahead. You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need. So I intend to just keep whacking away at that gnarly old traditional mindsucking media machine.
by blues 2005-12-23 02:47PM | 0 recs
TheAllOneParagraphPhenomenon.
See, I previously posted something a wee bit fancy in "HTML Formatted" mode, and somehow that flag got stuck in place. This one will be in "Auto Format" mode.

So a blank space will make this look like a new paragraph (I predict).

by blues 2005-12-23 02:55PM | 0 recs
History of worker ownership
The history of worker ownership of businesses has not been very good in the US. There have been some successful cases in Europe in the prior century, but the attitudes are different.

The problem is that the capitalists (that is the banks) don't want a worker owned business to succeed. It would set a precedent that would reflect badly on the current model. So they make it difficult for the company to get access to the financial markets. Since the company is not public it must depend upon loans to finance the operations and that is the choke point.

Another point is that workers don't have the necessary management skills. They need to hire top management to run the business and then you get the same conflicts between what is good for the company versus what is good for the workers.

Other problems arise when people leave or are hired. What happens to their shares?

All these issues can be addressed, but the odds, so far, have not been in their favor.

by rdf 2005-12-24 06:14AM | 0 recs

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