Guild: No More Mr. Nice Guy

Dateline: Thu 22 Sep 2011

Following is the email that went out Tuesday to members of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, under the subject heading, "Contract Negotiations Set to Begin."

Key words: "This time, ...we're not going for it," meaning the Guild is standing up to Gannett's incessant demands for more for less. "This time...enough. This time, things are going to be different."

Guild president Bobby King and his leadership team and ranks -- 122 working men and women -- have crafted a bold strategy. May it bring them not only a blitz of attention but the results they want and deserve.

Yes, it's far-fetched to expect Gannett to give anything; the Guild, having given up so much in the past, is not in its strongest position.

But there is a new, radical resolve and a level of frustration and out-and-out disgust heretofore unseen.

As King says, "This is about to get interesting."

Here's his reality-check email:

"Today, a team of your peers -- two reporters, a designer, a copy editor, an online editor and a building services worker representing the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild -- are sitting down across the table from representatives of Gannett to begin negotiating your next contract. And there have been few times since negotiating its first
contract in 1937 that the Guild comes to the bargaining table so battered and bruised.

"In the past three years, we’ve endured four rounds of layoffs and watched a quiet downsizing through attrition that has shrunk the size of our bargaining unit from 220 people to just 122 -- a decline of 44 percent.

Twice, in January and April of 2009, we were told we needed to make financial sacrifices for the company, or face layoffs. Twice we voted to accept a week off without pay, amounting to a 4 percent salary cut for 2009.

"Then, in August 2009, The Star’s management threatened layoffs again unless we took a 10 percent pay cut. Neither management nor other departments at The Star were asked to make such a sacrifice. Yet, our Guild membership voted -- narrowly, against the better judgment of many -- to sacrifice again rather than risk a worse fate.

"As we saw this summer, the layoffs came anyway.

"Sacrifice, we have learned since, is a concept that applies unevenly in Gannett. During layoffs, management has proven the safest place to be. While we took pay cuts, Gannett’s top executives took home multi-million dollar bonuses. In April, Gannett announced a pay package for our CEO that amounts to a pay raise of 107 percent.

"Yet today, we expect The Star’s management and its labor negotiator from Gannett to offer us nothing in the form of a pay raise. They may even demand more cuts. We expect Gannett will demand the right to outsource your jobs to a production hub in Kentucky. And we think they will demand the right to allow the further creep of advertorials, news releases and other heresies into the news pages.

"No doubt, it will be cast as a sacrifice that we must be willing to make.

"This time, though, we’re not going for it.

"This time, we’re saying... enough.

"This time, things are going to be different.


"Battered and bruised though we may be, we are tired of Gannett’s unchecked greed. We are tired of Gannett’s sorrowful lack of concern for its employees and the vital news product that we deliver to our community each day.

"Our copy editors and designers risk a nervous breakdown each night just trying to get the paper out with a staff that’s 40 percent smaller than it was three months ago. Same amount of work. Half the people to do it.

"These are people whose work is crucial to quality and accuracy of what we do, people who are wired to care about the details. But they are being asked to skip crucial steps, cut corners, let things go and pray that it comes out OK. They’re doing it with the threat of outsourcing hanging over their heads, with the 10 percent pay cut in their pocket, and without any kind of pay raise in three years. Don’t they deserve better?

"Our photographers are trying to produce the same award-winning news photos with a staff 45 percent smaller than it was three years ago. They are using equipment so outdated they must cannibalize old cameras for spare parts. They’re doing it without having seen a pay raise in three years. With stricter overtime rules. And, of course, with the 10 percent pay cut. Don’t they deserve better?

"Our reporting staff, which has produced some incredible enterprise and investigative work the past two years, has done so despite having its ranks thinned dramatically in every section of the staff -- news, features, suburban coverage and business. Some near the top of the pay scale haven’t seen a pay raise in 10 years, while inflation eats away at their livelihood. Many more haven’t seen a pay raise in three years. All are trying to do with 10 percent less in a world where everything costs more. Don’t they deserve better?

"The same is true for our staff of researchers, paraprofessionals, clerks and building service workers who have been stretching to fill the gaps left by their lost colleagues. These are the people who are working two jobs to pay the bills, who could least afford the cuts. They deserve better, too.


"So why, you ask, will any of this matter to Gannett, its bonus-fed executives, its corporate lawyer and its newest publisher with a sharp ax?

"Because, we’re going to make it matter.

"Because we’re angry, and not a little desperate.

"Want to know if we have a pulse?

"Our membership is at 70 percent, historically high levels for the Guild. Better yet, we’re active and motivated. We’re seeing people come forward daily with their talents to help us mobilize for the weeks and months ahead.

"And because we are willing, this year, to take our case to the public in ways we’ve never done before. Our media campaign is just beginning and it will build more loudly. Our efforts on the streets are just beginning. Do you know how many double takes and interested looks, how many willing takers, we had on Sunday when we handed Colts fans a message that said the Star needs saving.

"Our message will grow louder and more ubiquitous in the weeks ahead. We will be appealing to the business, faith, labor and social justice communities around the city. We will not be standing alone.

"The best asset we have in our drive this year is that we are right. We’re serving the community. We care about this place. We live here. What we earn stays here.

"Rather than give in to the greed, we must demand that Gannett invest less in its corporate bonus packages and invest more in The Star.

"Stay tuned.

"This is about to get interesting.

"-- Bobby King, President Indianapolis Newspaper Guild"


Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Best. Damned. Union. Letter. Ever.

Makes me wanna charge up a hill.

Biggest surprise: tht there are ANY copy editors left. You sure can't tell.

Amd: when is someone going to tell John Touhy that scanner-writing must include the five Ws? Or is THAT getting copy-edited?

A good friend's father just died. Long-time business leader here. Obit cost: OVER $1000. The family just about crapped a brick.

2011-09-22 07:41:50

ruthholl [Member] said:

I hate them, I hate them.
Guild's letter is very good, I agree. I hope exposure is what they really want, because I think retirees and others need to see both their resolve and what they face. People should be talking about this.

2011-09-22 09:35:05

hendy [Member] said:

I can sympathize, but all I can say is: half a league on, and watch out for the windmills. Fatten up the bank account, start looking for freelance work, 'cause you ain't gonna win this one. But it'll make you feel better, and when you're nursing cheap shots at a bar some place, you can all pat yourselves on the back and say: we fought the good fight. Except that you didn't.

Here's how it plays out. Maybe you get thrown a bone to shutup and you buy it. That's your best chance. If you go on strike, they'll carry on without you, and find a bunch of second-string writers that will keep the presses rolling while they sweat you out, and eventually replace you. Every one of you, no exceptions. And they'll do it with Louisville C-J staff (who understand Indiana politics better than TheStar does), and with boiler plate USA Today drivel (and AP, Reuters, and the usual string of contracted data sources). And they'll snicker in the boardroom, and they'll keep producing that ugly, anorexic little rag and you'll still keep fawning over its zombie corpse.

And you'll still live in the delusion of its former glory, rather than taking the bull by the horns and delivering real journalism to a needing Indy. Yes, it was once an interesting place, full of garish personalities and cigarette smoke next to coffee cups. And that day is dead.

2011-09-22 10:07:57

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I'm generally a union-supporting man, but this has the feel of Steve McQueen trying to fight The Blob with a toothpick.

2011-09-22 10:56:44

hendy [Member] said:

Little did Steve know that he would need to chill out The Blob. The union sounds great, and huffy and puffy and blow your house down.

I suppose they have to posture to get some more winnings for their constituents.... but I have a bad feeling about their ability to do much. After years of wet-noodling, changing their stripes will be difficult to do.

2011-09-22 11:17:46

guy77money [unverified] said:

Wait till Super Bowl week (the Friday before) and strike. You might lose your jobs but Gannet and the Star would lose a bundle.

2011-09-22 14:00:37

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Ruthie: I hate Gannett, too, on more levels than I can count.

2011-09-22 14:43:29

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Real doom and gloom here.


If there must be gloom, then exist amid the gloom with a 'Give 'em Hell!" attitude, full of righteous indignation.

Maybe, just MAYBE, lightning will strike. That union is due for a winner.

2011-09-22 17:22:23

escapedbeforebeinggannettized [unverified] said:

I totally agree with Hendy. Gannett will outlast you, will "best" you on everything. If you come to the table with 6 baseball bats, they will have have a truckload of them. If you have an ounce of patience, they will have 50 lbs. I have seen it time & time again where they don't care how the work gets done, or the quality of it - you will be replaced on the payroll spreadsheet by the proxy name of the week. Gannett represents everything bad about a large corporation, and they just keep on enhancing that reputation. They are not about to become reasonable or fair during these "tight" economic / revenue depraved times. I'd love for it to be differently and would love to be wrong, but you just have to know how ruthless they are. I have witnessed some pretty cold-hearted situations first hand, and it's not in their "stock" to do anything otherwise. I will have to say this: they are predictable.

2011-09-22 20:31:02

hendy [Member] said:

And I apologize for the reality. I wish I could give you a shot of scotch or a spoonful of sugar, or something else that makes swallowing it easy. The time for no-guts-no-glory is probably over. I'd love a nice stink, but what's it going to buy you?

That rag is at the bottom of a birdcage on a good day, and is just plain a waste of soy ink on others. Past is the day when it mattered. Good people like Ruth, and George, and a long list of people retired or were sacked or just regained sanity and found something else.

My deepest sadness is that despite our misgivings with it, it's gone, and everyone's just moping and no one is getting clever and easily usurping its mission. Ok, maybe not so easy. Every day I write 3500 words, somedays more, very few days less. It's what I do. Yes, I'm a deeply scarred geek with a passion for technology, but I know a lot of people out there that could organize and do what a good newspaper does for a city: make it communicate and transcend boundaries, expose justice, and injustice, make people laugh and cry and be people. Dammit, there just isn't much left to the Northern Alabama Times-- I mean IndyStar.

I understand the mission of The Guild. I also understand the Tennyson poem and the thought of Quixote-ism. It depresses the living hell out of me. But now I'm living in Bloomington, where there is a different world, much more rational, and far less stoked with vested interests, altho there is the 800 ton gorilla in the corner named Indiana University. That place needs a diet. Another story for another time.

2011-09-22 21:18:01

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"but I know a lot of people out there that could organize and do what a good newspaper does for a city: make it communicate and transcend boundaries, expose justice, and injustice, make people laugh and cry and be people."

I'm with you, Hendy. Along with the demise of The Star newspaper, in my opinion we have also experienced our so-called "alternative" newspaper/website, Nuvo, lose most its bite and its edge and most of its former social justice mission.

We need something new. Visionary. Utilizing all of the popular technology available today to be a voice for those who have no real voice.

I wonder....if some of those Guild members have ever thought about that as a possibility? You want to do damage to Gannett, steal some of their business.

2011-09-22 23:25:50

Seneca [Member] said:

"but I know a lot of people out there that could organize and do what a good newspaper does for a city: make it communicate and transcend boundaries, expose justice, and injustice, make people laugh and cry and be people."

Then why don't you?

And stop your incessant whining.

2011-09-23 08:01:32

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Seneca, this isn't whining.

It's discourse, otherwise known as reporters shooting the bull.

Most of the folks who come here have an ongoing interest in The Star and where newspapers, journalism, and reporters and editors are going.

What is being said here really isn't much different from the times I spent with so many Star people at The Front Page, know then as Yody's.

Over pitchers of beer and dozens of cigarettes, we would gossip about whoever wasn't there; we'd bitch about city officials, cops, state government, whatever. We'd gripe about editors and deadlines; complain about how stolid The Star was compared to other papers. We'd worry out loud about the prospect of The News or tv scooping us on our beats. We'd declare how computers were someday going to take over the whole operation and throw reporters out of work, just as typesetters in the print shop were being left behind at the time. If it was contract time, we'd lament the weakness of our Guild and hope we'd still get our tiny raises. We would laugh about the $100 checks we got from Gene Pulliam at Christmas and at the beginning of summer. We'd talk about the Pulliam succession and how it could play out and what it would mean to our futures. (Few, possibly none of us ever saw Gannett coming.)

To someone on the outside -- someone who never really knew the thrill and fear of writing a kick-ass front page piece on deadline and at length and in one take -- that kind of talk may have sounded like whining.

It was camaraderie. It was the stuff that glued the disparate personalities of the newsroom together.

I am glad to see it still lives here at Ruthie's blog.

2011-09-23 09:13:40

hendy [Member] said:

I guess I should clarify something: I never worked for The Star or The News or Indpls Newpapers Inc., etc with one exception: I was a News carrier as a teenager. With the profits, I was able to buy and consume approximately a thousand or so KMart submarine sandwiches to supplement my need for extreme energy. My body is approximately at least 1/3rd KMart Sub, 40yrs later. The rest, according to my critics, is bile and vinegar.

2011-09-23 09:44:00

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Very accurate and well-articulated, George. And you're right about it living here at Ruth's blog. We all owe her our appreciation.

Hendy, you worry me with all of that sub content in your body. Time to join me, Paul McCartney, and yes, now even Bill Clinton, in going veggie.

2011-09-23 13:21:18

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Thanks, Whitebeard.

Thanks, Ruthie.

2011-09-23 14:03:36

hendy [Member] said:

WB-- Been a pescetarian for 23 years Oct 6th.

2011-09-23 14:05:20

George Stuteville [unverified] said:


One of the smartest guys I've ever met...let's call him Andy Jacobs because that's his name, once told me that when he was delivering an anti-war speech in Congress, he heard himself saying: "Many people eat meat, but few go down to the slaughterhouse."

Andy said after uttering the phrase, he had to admit: A. He had never been to the slaughterhouse unless you wanted to characterize Korea in the early 1950s as such and B. Since he had made the statement, he should go to the slaughterhouse himself.

That field trip turned Andy into a vegetarian.

He would often tell (and repeat) that story on those days he would invite me to his office for a Veggieburger lunch, or when we'd meet up at an Arlington chili parlor where his order was always chili mac, beans only, please.

2011-09-23 15:22:55

Whitebeard [unverified] said:


My Irish grandpa lived in the mountains of West Virginia. He'd never raised animals on his farm, but his wife (my step-grandmother) talked him into buying a calf when he was in his late '60s.

Grandpa and the calf quickly fell in love with one another. When it saw him, it would come running across the pasture. Grandpa would love on it and it would love on him.

Time came for the cow to be slaughtered. My grandpa resisted while my step-grandma insisted.

We sat around the dining room table and my grandpa refused to eat any of the hamburger or steaks.

"I'm not going to eat my friend," he'd say, with a sad look on his face.

That experience never got out of my psyche and I became a vegetarian (I "don't eat anything that had a mother") in 1986. Besides not eating my friends, I'd probably have been gone long ago if not for my meat-free diet.

What does this all have to do with the newspaper Guild? Absolutely nothing. Sorry Ruth. Sorry Guild.

2011-09-23 16:06:36

hendy [Member] said:

I sat on a board with Andy. I watched him eat this ziti with marina sauce gruel. Me, I eat fish about 2x a week at most, and otherwise, will strangle people that offer me rabbit food. I try to dream up a lot of stuff.

And how Kim can keep cooking that gruel is just love, I guess.

Talk about thread drift.... hey Ruth! Are you chuckling??

2011-09-23 16:08:58

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Sure she is.

She usually does.

2011-09-23 16:20:51

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Quick, Ruth, change the topic, but not before I declare love and admiration for Andy Jacobs and Kim, too. What we'd be able to accomplish if Congress had about, oh, say about 100 of him.

In his office, he had a picture of himself -- poster-sized -- and he was holding one of the kids and there was a big purple splotch of upchuck on his shirt.

And he had a sign hanging in the outer office:

"Kindness Spoken Here."


2011-09-23 17:04:24

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

And at the end, the Star is fini. Ganette will milk it until the day it no longer produces positive revenue, and then drop it like a dirty diaper.

The rest is just words and wishful thinking.

2011-09-23 18:08:19

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

And, when Andy's office staff answered the phones, they were instructed to say:

"Tenth District Indiana." Instead of the Congressman's name.

Now, he was and is quirky. So am I.

He also reduced his own pension substantially, by refusing any pay increase until he'd stood for another election.

And when he'd send me a letter, if it was personal, he'd put his own stamp on it. He thought the franking privilege was overused.

The Guild ought to look him up, to seek campaign advice.

2011-09-24 05:30:19

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Weekly Sunday Star read-time count;

11 minutes. And that counts two obits.

When oh when is that miserbale "Business" section goign to throw in the towel?

Memo to the Guild: if your writers are writing articles which are getting shelved, please tell us. Because this is looking mighty bad.

I'm hoping that's the case.

2011-09-25 17:25:32

ruthholl [Member] said:

Sorry I missed out on most of this. The weekend took on a life of its own. But then so did this blog.
Thanks. I hope to have more to say tomorrow, after a night's rest....not that it hasn't all been said already, but still, for the sake of form....
and all that.

2011-09-26 19:32:42

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