Saturday, June 09, 2012

Digital Will Not Save Newspapers: What this means for Newspaper Unions

At the 2012 North American Newspaper Conference, I had the opportunity to present a report I wrote on the effect of digital advertising revenues for newspaper companies and what this means for newspaper unions.  This post is a summation of that report.  The full report can be viewed here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/96526579/Digital-Will-Not-Save-Newspapers

Introduction
Despite an initial slow decline in daily newspaper circulation beginning in 1984, by 1990, daily circulation begins to fall more rapidly.  Sunday circulation, however, continues to grow until it peaks in 1994 at 62.6 million and starts its slow decline. For the next ten years, both Sunday and Daily circulation continue a steady decline until 2004 when both circulations go into free-fall.

In addition to the declining circulation, newspapers have also faced a major erosion of their advertising revenue since 2000.  As newspapers derive the majority of their income from advertising, this lost revenue are devastating.  In 2000 advertising accounted for 82% of newspaper revenue.  From 2000 to 2011, print advertising fell by a whopping 57%.

Since they began measuring on-line advertising in 2003, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) reports that online advertising rose nearly 275% from 2003 to 2011.  Despite this dramatic increase in on-line advertising, the total revenue dollars pale in comparison to print advertising revenues. 

While most newspapers have developed an Internet presence with an impressive array of on-line media, they have not been able to generate enough income from access fees, advertising, and services to make up for the dramatic loss in print advertising.  In fact, a recent study released by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) reported that newspapers took in roughly $11 in print revenue for every $1 they attracted online. 

While there has clearly been significant decline in the industry, and media companies have seen their profits hurt, there have been a few bankruptcies and, absent a couple of notable exceptions, relatively few newspapers have gone out of business.  In fact, the number of daily papers has only seen a slight decline, and the number of Sunday newspaper has remained steady and even increased slightly in 2009.  The largest change in our industry has come in the form of printing consolidation, which has had disastrous consequences for newspaper employees.  Over 98% of newspaper plant closings in the United States are a result of outsourcing or consolidation.

As discussed earlier, print advertising has been the lifeblood of newspapers’ and with digital revenue showing little promise to change that any time soon newspapers are desperately searching for a number new revenue streams.  These new revenue streams can be made up of a multitude of revenue makers in digital media, print media, and related businesses including digital subscriptions, production services, banner advertising, new print products, distribution services, print in-sourcing, mobile text advertising, social networking, niche newspapers and cross media advertising. 

Many of these will present opportunities for pressmen and other newspaper craft unions.  For example, two larger shops in Local 3, the Boston Globe and the Providence Journal have been adding numerous publications and experimenting with new and innovative ways to produce printed products that offer new advertising opportunities such as ads that pop-out of the top of the paper and ads that fold over page one. 

As more and more newspapers continue to outsource their printing operations, job losses will continue.  However, most of this work has, and will, continue to migrate to unionized facilities.  In some cases, this migration of work has resulted in additional positions, but these few additions do not keep pace with the jobs lost from outsourcing.

Despite the circulations declines, the printed newspaper, and associated products such as comics and advertising supplements will continue to exist, albeit in different form, for years to come.  These printed products, however, will be ever changing.  Daily and Sunday newspapers will evolve into smaller, user-friendly formats.  The comics and other sections are being developed to accommodate new and different advertising opportunities.  Newspaper pressrooms will also be printing niche products, with more color and new, creative design features requiring complex printing operations.

As David Weil said in his 1997 book, Turning the Tide; Strategic Planning for Labor Unions,  “For labor unions in the industry, these transformations provide challenges, but also new opportunities.”

Bargaining
In an article for Industrial and Labor Relations Review entitled; Is Pattern Bargaining Dead? Author KJ Ready makes clear that “Pattern bargaining as a process may, however differ from pattern bargaining as an outcome.”  This is obviously true in the newspaper industry. 

Pattern bargaining and coordinated bargaining have failed in our industry.  It is time to recognize this and increase our leverage at the table by bringing more groups under one collective bargaining agreement.  Whether it is through local merger, or other means, this must be done. 

In today’s ever changing printing environment, and with the Globe currently introducing many new products, in makes absolutely no sense to squander this opportunity of a common expiration dates increased constituencies, and less competition with multiple unions bargaining over the same dollars.  Drastic change such as this is never easy.  However, with most newspaper employees represented by the Teamsters and the Communications Workers of America we should seek their assistance is this endeavor.
    
Organizing
In the printing industry, there are a number of opportunities for internal organizing.  It is common in the industry to have only one or two departments in a printing operation unionized.  While this is less common in the newspaper industry, it is more common in the commercial printing business.  Potential external targets are many of the office stores that are now using digital printers to do work we have done for years.  These include Staples, OfficeMax, and Kinko’s.  As Kinko’s is affiliated with FedEx, there could be some tie-in with the Teamsters as they are at odds with FedEx.

Because we have seen a number of lay-offs, we have a number of solid union members, including former stewards, who may be willing to work as salts for organizing.  Even with the prospect using salts, however external organizing is difficult for smaller unions. There is also the political concern over organizing within the local with members seeing dollars expended with little or no results.  We must overcome this fear and somehow find a way to renew our efforts to mobilize and energize those within our current bargaining units to reach out to their fellow unorganized employees. 

As Bill Fletcher puts it; “Although there are few definitive answers, the experiences of locals struggling with the realities of juggling organizing and representational responsibilities should guide the search for sustainable conversion.”

Conclusion
Newspaper companies want to stay in business.  Many are doing this by outsourcing their printing and many are doing this by increasing their printing.  The evidence is becoming clearer by the day that if major newspapers wish to stay in business, with their own newsrooms and original reporting, they cannot rely on digital revenue to support them.  With their need to support printed products and the revenue that comes from it, we can expect, new print products, print in-sourcing, niche newspapers and new and innovative ways to produce printed products that offer new advertising opportunities such as ads that pop-out of the top of the paper and ads that fold over page one. 
 
These will present real opportunities for pressmen and other newspaper craft unions.  In order to benefit from this changing environment, newspaper craft unions, particularly the Pressmen’s unions, need to ensure we are positioned to accept and execute this new work.  It required accepting significant cultural change in the form of additional paid straight-time hours, considerable work rule modifications, and additional training.

While these changes seemed difficult to accept in the short term, the leverage gained by the elimination of competition, the addition of multiple constituent publications, and an expanding skill set will pay dividends in subsequent contract negotiations.

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