Newspaper Guild Pickets the DNT

(The article below was originally posted to the Northern Worker blog at www.northernworker.wordpress.com)

by Adam Ritscher

On Thursday, February 25 about 80 members and supporters of the Lake Superior Newspaper Guild gathered in front of the Duluth News-Tribune offices for an informational picket. The Newspaper Guild represents the reporters and other workers at the DNT.



The union called the protest to draw attention to the dramatic number of layoffs that have been carried out by the paper.  According to Peter Passi, the president of the union, a third of the newspaper staff has been let go since 2008. A number of these layoffs have come spitefully in the aftermath of the union refusing to accept concessions demanded by the owners of the paper. The effect of these layoffs has been devastating to the families involved, and it has dramatically affected the quality of the paper. And rest assured, that throughout this whole process the corporate big shots haven’t seen any kind of pay cut or concessions!

The protest ran from noon to about 1pm. It began with a rally in front of the main entrance of the newspaper’s offices.  In addition to Peter Passi, the speakers were Catherine Conlan, formerly of the DNT, and Sharla Gardner and Dan Hartman from the Duluth City Council. The rally was followed by a walking picket in front of the DNT building. In addition to DNT workers, among the protesters were members of AFSCME Local 66, United Steelworkers Local 9460, Operating Engineers Local 49 and Socialist Action.

This picket comes on the heels of byline strike that DNT reporters held in mid-February.  The Newspaper Guild is calling on its supporters to call, write or email Forum Communications, the Fargo based company that owns the News-Tribune, and urge them to end the layoffs and to work constructively with the union. You can reach the CEO of Forum at [email protected]

Below is an open letter that has been issued by the union.

OPEN LETTER FROM THE LAKE SUPERIOR NEWS GUILD

Mr. Bill Marcil:

We, the members of the Lake Superior Newspaper, write this open letter to express our profound disappointment with continued cuts at the Duluth News Tribune.

Had Forum Communications Co. been willing to engage in negotiations with our union, we believe the latest round of layoffs could have been avoided.

Since 2008, Forum has cut staff at the Duluth News-Tribune by more than one-third.

Some of these staff reductions were an unavoidable result of the recession and a downturn in the newspaper industry. The bloodletting borne of necessity has been tough enough to endure. But recent layoffs have been even more disheartening.

Twice now, Forum has demanded concessions to a signed contract but has offered nothing in return to our members. In the absence of any assurances that jobs would be preserved, the Guild turned down the company’s concession requests. But employees and their union have repeatedly offered to work with Forum to provide savings the company seeks, so long as our sacrifices preserve jobs.

Forum has been unwilling to work with the Guild and has repeatedly eliminated jobs instead of negotiating less detrimental solutions.

When Forum asked us to take its latest unilateral concession package to our members for a vote, we did as requested and received a resounding answer. Nearly 80% of our voting members chose to reject the company’s request.

Yet, 98% of members voted in support of continued negotiations with Forum, in hopes of finding a mutually acceptable solution. Our membership indicated they were willing to provide the requested concessions and consider even more sacrifices if they had assurances that their actions would protect their colleague’s jobs.

But Forum would not come to the table and instead laid off still more people.

The company’s behavior displays disregard for your employees, their families and the community we serve. The staffing cuts Forum has made and continues to make in Duluth have weakened our newspaper, hurting both readers and advertisers.

In light of recent events, we have taken our case public and are hereby inviting community members to share their concerns about what is becoming of the newspaper. We hope you will listen to these voices and consider them as you make future decisions about staffing and resources at the Duluth News-Tribune.

Sincerely, The Membership of the Lake Superior Newspaper Guild

24 Comments

udarnik

about 10 years ago

Catherine Conlan, formerly of the DNT.

Rougement

about 10 years ago

Up until recently I had only heard about the DNT and hadn't seen it in the flesh. After getting a few copies delivered it's pretty obvious to me that this publication, in it's current form, needs to be put out of it's misery. I had to play hunt the content. I'm sure there's some content in there, hidden amongst the volumnious amount of ads but after a few copies I just couldn't be bothered to find it and gave up. I'm talking about content I can't get anywhere else. I've got all the access I need to AP stuff on my computer and phone.  

This paper is dead in the water unless massive changes happen. Still, maybe a new publication could step up? There's already a good blueprint there for how not to run a paper.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

The Northland's News Center did a story on the picketing and reporter Joel Runck told anchor Michelle Lee that he called Forum Communications for comment and they hung up on him.

Forum Communications.

wildgoose

about 10 years ago

Hung up on Runck?

That kid is an earnest newsman.  Hanging up on him was bad, bad form. Bad form.

This may not end well ... for Forum.

Sean

about 10 years ago

I'll second the comments by Rougement.  There are so many quality staff that have been laid off by the DNT - realizing, of course, that there are still people of incredibly high quality working there - but the reporting has unquestionably suffered.  

I would very much like to see someone in the community step up with an ownership model that's more functional - perhaps an employee-owned model - and start a new daily to compete with the forum.  It wouldn't take much to convince the few remaining subscribers to change over.  I question whether the forum could ramp up quality/quantity quickly enough to compete, so hopefully the new paper would have a fighting chance.  What the forum has done to the DNT is incredibly sad, again, with due deference to all the remaining hard working employees.  I know doing something like this would take lots of start-up capital, but I suspect there would be interested individuals somewhere in the community willing to bankroll a venture like this.  They should step up.

Calk

about 10 years ago

@ Sean, I would love to see a Minnpost type online newspaper take off here in Duluth.

Rougement

about 10 years ago

I'd be involved in a new paper in a heartbeat. I'm sure I'm not alone. There must be a sizeable number of ex DNT people out there too.

Sean

about 10 years ago

MinnPost is great - but Duluth's doesn't have to be non-profit, I don't think.  There might be an opportunity in Duluth that there isn't in the Twin Cities - in the Twin Cities, you have 2 (profitable?) newspapers competing with one another, +City Pages going after ad revenue.  In Duluth, you've got a situation where advertisers have no other options, really - no offense, Reader Weekly.  If advertisers had another option... well, I think there might be money to be made there.  Then again, I don't know the biz.

wildgoose

about 10 years ago

I contacted Minnpost and they told me that they would like to have a Duluth bureau with more coverage here.  That may have been lip service.  But if they would do it and I mean really do it, with multiple reporters an editor or two and possibly even some support staff that would be cool.  

I don't like all this talking of completely writing off the DNT, though.  Or newspapers in general, for that matter.  Anyone else remember the dot com boom, only ten or so years ago?  Everyone needed a website with a cool name and "dot com" after it to be in business?  Well, that's still true.  But the part where they said no one is going to shop retail anymore DIDn't come true.  Seriously, people believed it was the end of Main Street. But a hundred sites with names like hardware.com  couldn't compete on service and they couldn't compete on delivery and pricing as much as they said the could, either.  Sure, everything is different now, but its not the end, is it?

I think the same may be true of newspapers.  I know that it's happened elsewhere, but I don't see our daily paper going out of print.  And I have heard all the ideas of setting up a competing daily, or even a competing community web site ... I'm interested, but not if they have the express goal of vengefully destroying the DNT, for all the reasons listed above and many more.

You can't just begin with a negative as your goal, it just leads to negative.

Sean

about 10 years ago

It's not necessarily vengeful, or even negative.  It's just really sad what the forum has done, disappointing.  If I were fortunate enough to live in Duluth, I'd subscribe - to the StarTrib.  I think lots of subscribers feel that way, and you're right, wildgoose - many people want to have a newspaper delivered.  So my mom is having a paper from Eau Claire delivered.  It's ridiculous.  A little competition could go a long way, hopefully bringing people who've dropped their subscriptions back into the fold.

Calk

about 10 years ago

@WildGoose -- what Sean said. I LOVE local newspapers. But I do want something thrtr to read, not just dreck. I do get news -- from the NY Times -- but it seems like the DNT is just circling the drain. We're not getting news there. Maybe it's time to move on.

The Big E

about 10 years ago

Way off on a tangent, thinking about old times..  A couple of vaguely interesting photos from the 1938 News-Tribune strike.   What was different then is that the Farmer-Labor governor responded to the violence by calling out the National Guard to chase the Duluth police away from the pickets, and the paper eventually caved.  [And that's why they talk about "political economy."]

wildgoose

about 10 years ago

That's not off topic at all Big E.  

I think I agree with you Calk and Sean and others, too.  But I just meant that if people are gonna rally around a new media outlet then it should be about creating rather than destroying.  And also, why start from scratch?

In a market segment that is already (nearly) hopelessly fragmented, why create something totally new? Especially if it is just a reaction to the DNT.  As a media outsider, I can't help but wonder aloud if it wouldn't be much better to bolster, support, and encourage the expansion of another existing publication such as The Reader, Business North, or one of my faves, The Hillsider.  UMD Statesman might be another example and there could be other contenders, I don't want to leave any out.    

-- 

By the way, I was at a meeting yesterday and some people were saying that they call the Superior Evening Telegram the "Uneven Telegram" or something like that.  So it's not just Duluth that has been hurt by Forum's cuts, Superior consumers got hit really bad and the surrounding communities (fmr Murphy-McGinnis papers) must be feeling it worst of all.

zra

about 10 years ago

tamara was out there with #3 (he was in his snowsuit) for a half hour yesterday...

i'm a huge fan of Business North. Nothing BUT content, and a lot of it is really useful, too. It's an informative resource for keeping track of the business climate round here. (Their coverage of the ongoing Link lawsuit debacle is top notch!)

Ferris

about 10 years ago

Forget the DNT and move on. The people that own that place are a Joke. Why waste the time. Get something else together and start something new. I currently subscribe to the DNT but would cancel if something better came a long.

mevdev

about 10 years ago

I would love to see a competing paper. These folks should use their time to just put out one or two issues in defiance. I'm sure they could get support of some printer in town.


Starting a newspaper would be a seriously expensive ordeal, not because printing is expensive, not because great writers are hard to find, but because people are expensive, and newspapers need a lot of people to keep quality up. These people are fed up, probably frightened and want nothing more than to keep their jobs. 


It is too bad that to keep their jobs they have to stop doing their jobs. Does that even make sense? Why not work overtime secretly, get some great content, print a version of the paper that they want, then distribute it around town. It will get back to Forum sometime, maybe it might provoke a sea-change, maybe it might get them all fired, but doing SOMETHING sounds a hell of a lot better than doing nothing.

brian

about 10 years ago

Do you really think the few people left at the DNT are doing nothing? 

Not only is there the reporting and writing and printing, but circulation, delivery, ad sales, and more behind the scenes. All of those are full time jobs, not something somebody's going to pick up in their spare time.

The idea of anyone stepping up and starting a new paper is pretty funny. If there's someone out there willing to invest in a start-up print news operation these days, look me up. I've got some beachfront property to sell, and some money to transfer to you from my Nigerian bank account.

I agree with wildgoose, as dire as things look for the DNT, if it does go all the way down the drain, we're going to be S.O.L. as far as daily news in any print form. The TV stations will undoubtedly step up their online coverage, and try to pick up any of that ad revenue they can, but they're not going to sacrifice on-air ratings by sending too many people to websites.

mevdev

about 10 years ago

I was talking about striking.

mevdev

about 10 years ago

I assume everyone there is now doing 3 or 4 jobs based on how many people they've fired.

Beverly Godfrey

about 10 years ago

I'm a copy editor at the News Tribune, and I can't imagine a journalist secretly working overtime to produce a competing product. It goes against journalistic ethics we keep in mind every day.

I marched with my co-workers Thursday, and I hope the message we're sending isn't misinterpreted in any way that we mean the paper harm. We're all working very hard to report the news and keep high standards. The point of the march is to say we want to work together toward solutions to get the newspaper to the level of quality that a town like Duluth deserves. The point is that laying off more people isn't getting us closer to this goal.

I thank Brian for his comment, and Catherine for speaking at the event.

Michael rodney

about 10 years ago

Tell Marcil to go pack sand up his ass and people complaining need to find other employment and the DNT will go out of business. Will anyone even notice? Everything is online now.

Brandon Stahl

about 10 years ago

I just want to say a huge thank you to each and every person that showed up to support the guild Thursday, as well as thank yous to everyone who has written letters in support.

beryl john-knudson gullsgate

about 10 years ago

"The Death and Life of American Journalism"...realnews.com network has an interview with John Nichols and Chesney on their co-authored book... and then some.

Does anyone remember not too many years ago when Main U. J-School was put under the wing of the Communications Dept?

Maybe we should have been reading the graffiti on the wall way back then...as journalism began to lower its standards and news became not too much more then show-and-tell; a public relations guide directed by the fat finger of the buy-out/buy-in corporations?

Curious too, who pickets nowadays? When corporations own the business doesn't even local 'management' become 'workers' too within that establishment?

Did all offices empty out yesterday or who looked down from above watching their fellow workers? I certainly would like to know.

Ron Brochu

about 10 years ago

Bill Marcil's failure to comment is pure hypocrisy. His family made a fortune because readers (customers) had the courage to comment to Forum reporters. He lacks that courage and lacks journalistic integrity in cases where he ignores Duluth media. 

Forum's mistake was not only failing to conduct good financial due diligence before buying Duluth-area publications, but failing to conduct cultural due diligence. Duluth is the polar opposite of Fargo. Marcil and his minions aren't willing to serve our needs. They want all of Duluth to adopt a Dakotas mentality just because they galloped into town.

It was foolish to assume a newspaper could or would flip the philosophical landscape on their command. It was a bad business decision that is hurting Duluth, and Forum does nothing except blame others for their error.

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