* ATTENTION EDITORS AND AWARDS COORDINATORS *
Call for Submissions for the
Canadian Hillman Prize in Journalism
Postmark Deadline January 9, 2014
4th Annual Prize Honours Excellence in Journalism
In Service of the Common Good
The winner(s) of the Canadian Hillman Prize will be announced in mid-March and awarded travel to receive a certificate and a $5,000 prize at a reception to be held on Tuesday April 1, 2014 in Toronto. The winner will also get to travel to New York City to participate in the U.S. awards ceremony to be held May 6, 2014. The Canadian winner will be listed among all Hillman Prize winners on the Hillman Foundation website.
There is no submission fee. A cover letter and four copies of the nominated material are all that is required.
Since 1950, the Sidney Hillman Foundation has honoured journalists, writers and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good. Sidney Hillman was the founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union of America, a predecessor union of Workers United, SEIU. Sidney Hillman, an architect of the New Deal, fought to build a vibrant union movement extending beyond the shop floor to all aspects of workers’ lives.
“In each of the three years the Canadian Hillman Prize has been awarded we have been exposed to the tenacity, hard work and creativity of Canadian journalists who are unflinchingly committed to exposing injustice and seeing it corrected,” said Alex Dagg,Director of Operations, National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) and member of the board of directors of the Sidney Hillman Foundation. “Reflecting on the past year’s news, we anticipate a tough decision by our judging panel, which means Canadian media are doing it right.”
Please forward all nominations/submissions to:
500-579 Richmond Street West
For more information and to see past winners, please visit the website at www.hillmanfoundation.org.
Faceless foreign ownership is behind newspaper publisher Postmedia’s push to cut costs at Vancouver’s duopoly dailies, according to the head of the union that represents workers at the Sun and Province. “One of the big problems with Postmedia is it’s controlled by U.S. hedge funds,” said Mike Bocking, president of Unifor Local 2000.
The latest move to trim expenses came with last week’s announcement that Postmedia will sell its Surrey printing plant and either contract out printing of the dailies or build a more efficient plant that would cost 70-75 per cent less to operate.
“The essential promise of hedge funds to their investors is better-than-market returns,” noted Bocking. “Many hedge funds are not really creators of value, but extractors of value.”
Hedge funds that specialize in buying up the debt of distressed companies at pennies on the dollar jumped into the newspaper business in a big way during the recent recession. A pair of American hedge funds are now major owners of the former Southam newspaper chain, which was sold at auction to a group of its creditors in 2010 following the bankruptcy of Canwest Global Communications.
The new company’s share structure had to be altered to stay within Canada’s foreign ownership limits by giving the U.S. hedge funds shares less voting control. Golden Tree Asset Management and Alden Global Capital both have directors on thePostmedia board, but Postmedia’s new head man in Vancouver insists their influence is not what is behind the company’s downsizing.
“I don’t take instructions from Golden Tree or Alden,” said Gordon Fisher, president of the Postmedia subsidiary Pacific Newspaper Group. “They are investors. They are in for the long haul.”
Postmedia has posted robust profits of 17 per cent or more since 2011.
But Fisher says the problem at PNG is a cost structure that is out of line with other Postmedia newspapers, along with declining revenues from print advertising. “We have to cut our costs where we can,” he said. “I think our employees understand that reality.”
Alarming memo signaled cuts
Fisher was sent to Vancouver in January from Postmedia headquarters near Toronto, where he was president of the flagship National Post, with an apparent mandate to cut costs. He should be familiar with the labour situation at the former Pacific Press dailies, because he spent some time at the Sun in the 1970s and ’80s, rising to managing editor.
Fisher shocked PNG workers shortly after his return to Vancouver with what The Huffington Postdescribed as “one of the bluntest newsroom memos ever seen.” Fisher told PNG staff that “if we don’t find ways to dramatically reduce costs, the answer is clear. The business is unsustainable.”
The alarming memo was quickly leaked and posted online. “We are all fighting not only for the future of the Vancouver Sun and The Province but for the lives and well-being of our families,” it concluded.
The first result of the cost-cutting program was the departure of about 110 employees through buyouts and early retirement. In June, PNG put two entire floors of the Granville Square office tower it leases up for sublet at below market rates.
Then in July, the company announced stiff hikes in subscription rates. Fisher cited “significant declines in advertising revenues” in a full-page letter to readers explaining the increase, yet promised them “we will be investing in and improving all our news platforms.”
That appeared at odds with the wholesale departures, including high-profile columnists likeDavid Baines and Jonathan Manthorpe, but Fisher said that only about 15 of the severed staff came from Sun and Province newsrooms.
“We didn’t lose a lot of producing, creative, hard-nosed reporters. We had a couple of high-profile columnists who decided to retire. We’ve always had really good people come and then decide it was time to retire. There was nothing we could have done about that anyways.”
No plans to close Sun or Province: Fisher
A paywall erected around Sun and Province online content that was announced at the same time has been a huge success so far, according to Fisher. “We are exceeding our targets significantly,” he said.
According to John Miller, the author of Yesterday’s News: Why Canada’s Daily Newspapers are Failing Us, Fisher “has a reputation as a corporate hatchet man, having presided over many staff-reduction programs starting with the mass firing he carried out as new publisher of the Kingston Whig-Standard in 1994.”
Fisher defended those cuts as necessary, as were subsequent staff reductions he made at the National Post and the recent downsizing at PNG. “The restructuring we have done has taken out of the newsrooms production work,” he said. “It’s not work that journalists do. There’s a digital evolution under way, and we’d be crazy to ignore it.”
Fisher insisted that both the Sun and Province will continue to publish in print and added there are no plans to close one newspaper or to merge them into one publication. “I didn’t come here to do that,” he said.
Postmedia raking in profits
While hard times have definitely visited the newspaper business with the advent of the Internet and the recent recession, there’s only one small problem with Postmedia pleading poverty. It is actually making very healthy profits. Its latest quarterly report shows that it made $32.8 million in its third quarter on $191.8 million in revenues, for a tidy profit margin of 17 per cent. It’sright there on page 2. That’s an enviable rate of return, given that the average profit margin of a Fortune 500 company is 4.7 per cent.
But it’s not quite as good as Postmedia did last year, when its return on revenue was 17.3 per cent, and not nearly as good as in 2011, when it raked in profits at a rate of 19.7 per cent. Postmedia reported that it suffered an operating loss of $95 million last quarter, but that figure is only arrived at by subtracting from its earnings some extraordinary and even imaginary expenses.
Restructuring costs of $16.8 million included severance packages incurred in jettisoning staff, which will save the company money in the long term.
Most of Postmedia’s supposed operating loss, however, comes from a $93.9 million “impairment” charge that resulted from a reduced valuation of the company’s worth. Far from bleeding red ink, the company turns out to be well into the black, just not far enough for some.
That could prove problematic in convincing Sun and Province press operators to make the kinds of concessions PNG is apparently looking for. The company has given Unifor, the new union created by the recent merger of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Auto Workers, until Nov. 18 to come up with agreement that would see construction of a new, more efficient printing plant that reduces costs by up to three quarters.
The company has already entered into a contract with an outside company to print the Sun and Province starting in early 2015, but it will not go into effect if the company and union reach a deal.
Press operators once had one of the most militant of the unions at the dailies, which were shut down by strikes and lockouts seven times between 1967 and 1994. Restrictive manning clausesoften required staffing levels on the presses that were well above what were required by advances in printing technology.
The multitude of powerful unions at the Sun and Province were consolidated into one as the result of a company initiative in 1996. Work stoppages have been infrequent ever since, perhaps because a large, diverse union tends to be less militant than a small one with greater solidarity. It looks like Unifor might get its first big test fighting for the jobs of its 260 press operators at PNG.
The ONG Citizen Unit Bargaining committee is now receiving a number of inquiries concerning the proposed change to the E-3 / E-4 classifications in the contract.
This change was proposed as a housekeeping change to reflect logical numbering under
the editorial department jobs, E-1 through E-8. The copy editor job has always been a
“higher classification” job than a reporter job, but a change to the grid back in 1997
moved reporters up to E-3 with the Queens Park and Parliamentary reporters.
During the 1997 round of contract bargaining, the copy editor job was the E-4 group,
and the reporter job was in the E-5 group (along with photographers, librarians etc).
There was no percentage increase in the first year of the contract, with everyone
receiving a lump sump payment on ratification, but the reporters were given an extra
$22/week pay increase as part of negotiations and were moved from the E-5 group up
to E-3 with the parliamentary reporters. There was no change to the copy editors who
remained as E-4, but they were still paid at a higher weekly pay rate than the reporters,
and consequently still considered as a higher classification than reporter.
In 2011, the photographers addressed the issue about not being on par with the
reporters. This was reviewed by the union and the company through the Pay Equity
process. The result was that the photographers received pay parity with the reporters.
It was also agreed to move photographers from the E-5 group to the E-3 group and
update the contract at the next round of negotiations, namely 2013.
When the threat of layoffs arose in the summer of 2012, the issue of bumping brought
the numbering anomaly in the contract to the forefront again and many discussions with
the employer took place on this subject. The Guild obtained a legal opinion to clarify –
we asked our labour lawyers specifically about the classifications of reporters and copy
editors in the contract. E-3 is the reporter group, and E-4 is the copy editor group, but
the copy editors have a higher weekly salary . The legal opinion was that the copy
editors are the higher classification. They believe that the lower-paid classifications in
the contract provisions refer to the lower-paid classification, and that the numbering of
the classifications would not govern. That would mean that in the event of layoff, a copy
editor could bump a reporter with lower seniority.
The Guild proposed again for this round of negotiations to switch the E-3 and E-4 groups
to help clear up the issue. The employer also proposed classification and bumping rights
language that states a lower classification is defined as a classification in which the
maximum pay rate listed under Article 6 is lower. As a result both parties agreed that
the Article 6, Editorial grid, should be aligned to reflect the proper listing sequence of
If you have any questions, please contact a member of the Guild executive committee.
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Rob Bostelaar, Debbie Cole, Lois Kirkup, Jeff Parks, ONG Bargaining Committee
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Ottawa Newspaper Guild office
7B – 1050 Baxter Road
(2nd floor – upstairs over Carrier/Totaline)
The ONG Executive Committee and Citizen Unit
Bargaining Committee has scheduled an information
session / Q&A discussion forum for 12 noon on Tuesday,
Oct. 29 at the Guild office for Citizen unit members to
discuss contract bargaining.
Come with your questions and your lunch to the Guild
office (next door to the Citizen at 7B – 1050 Baxter Rd.) to
October 20, 2013
To: Ottawa Citizen Guild Members
Members of the Ottawa Citizen Unit of the Guild voted today on the employer’s settlement offer. A majority of members rejected the company’s proposal.
In an extensive discussion of the contract proposals, members expressed disappointment in the terms of the offer.
We have informed the employer and the conciliator of the results of the vote and will keep you posted on future developments.
Rob Bostelaar, Debbie Cole, Lois Kirkup, Jeff Parks ONG Citizen Unit Bargaining Committee
Ottawa Citizen Unit Meeting & Vote Sunday, October 20, 2013
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Carleton Ballroom – Best Western Bells Corners 1876 Robertson Road, Ottawa
As an update to our October 9 bulletin/meeting notice, this is to advise members that the offer presented to the Guild by the Citizen on October 8 was called a Final Settlement Position. To be clear, this is not a negotiated tentative agreement between the parties.
The Guild did agree to bring the document to the membership for a vote — a vote only to accept or reject the company offer — and that is the vote to be held at the October 20 meeting.
It is important to come to the meeting to go over details of what the offer contains, and to understand exactly where we are in the process.
Rob Bostelaar, Debbie Cole, Lois Kirkup, Jeff Parks ONG Citizen Unit Bargaining Committee