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March 2006   

Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Workers Online speaks to the ACTU's Union Organiser of the Year, Greg Harvey from the RTBU, who has been using cutting edge ways to communicate with a blue-collar workforce spread across five states.

Industrial: How Low Is Low
Neale Towart looks at the much hyped link between minimum wages and employment

Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
The Howard Govwernment has begun rolling out workshops to inform employers on how to use WorkChoices. Sean Ambrose sneaked through the doors for Workers Online.

Unions: Bad Medicine
Nathan Brown reports on how Australia Postís dodgy Faculty Nominated Doctor system is leaving sick workers feeling worse.

History: Right Turn, Clyde
Bob Gould believes news of Clyde Cameronís demise may be premature

Economics: Long Division
Kenneth Davidson looks at a successful political strategy

International: Union Proud
A University of California librarian calls for union labels to increase worker visibility

Politics: Howardís Sick Joke
Phil Doyle looks at an attack on one of the great achievements of the union movement

Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
That mob in parliament house seems to be hopelessly out of touch with Indigenous Australia. So much so, that Graham Ring wonders if the House on the Hill is becoming a Ďcultural museumí.

Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Mandrake the Electrician has been down to the video store over the summer and rounded up the Top Ten Union Movies of all time.

Culture: News Front
If the owners are selling off papers, perhaps the unions should buy them says Mark Dobbie.


The Soapbox
Australian Fascism
Rowan Cahill critiques Gerard Hendersonís unique take on history

Westie Wing
Will Westie's Wings be clipped, or will the Hills Angels repent and deliver?

The Locker Room
The Heart Of The Matter
Phil Doyle rolls up the red carpet and celebrates the death of an old foe


Home Truths
The truth has been breaking out in all sorts of strange places this week.


 Wipeout: Minchin Surfs New Wave

 Scoop-idity: How The Truth Was Nicked

 Howard's Bastard Under Lock and Key

 Bank Shops Skilled Workers

 Debnam Dogs on Libs

 Jacko: "I'm Bad"

 Computer Strike Could Crash System

 Builders' Cleavage Strikes Gold

 Andrews Cops Legal Buffeting

 Brough Love for Women

 CFMEU Aids Escape

 Hunt on for Asbestos Crims

 Unions Counsel Queen

 Guests Get Pizza Topping

 Download a Pollie

 Activist's What's On!

 Howard, My Part In His Downfall
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News Front

If the owners are selling off papers, perhaps the unions should buy them says Mark Dobbie.

Grumpy shareholders are no fun. Grumpy shareholders that force the sale of a media business spark media ownership fears. And that's what's facing the second biggest US newspaper group, Knight Ridder. But the union representing some Knight Ridder journalists has a plan to continue the media company's independence.

In November, Knight Ridder, which consists of 32 daily newspapers as well as a network of websites and employs 18,000 people, said it was considering selling the company because of discontent amongst its institutional shareholders. The company has been holding meetings with prospective buyers and a second round of auction bidders are expected to circle the company in February.

Like many print media groups, profits are being squeezed. In the three months to December 31, Knight Ridder saw net income fall by 22 percent to US$8.3 million.

Shareholder Private Capital Management wants the sale. Prospective bidders include media groups McClatchy, Gannet and MediaNews, and private institutions are also interested.

But in late December, the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, the print journalists union that has 34,000 members, announced it was interested in maintaining independent ownership of eight Knight Ridder newspapers that have existing agreements with the Guild.

The Guild notes that since 1975, two-thirds of independent newspaper owners and one third of independent television owners in the US have disappeared. Only 281 of 1500 daily newspapers continue to be independently owned. While the three largest newspaper publishers control 25% of the daily newspaper circulation worldwide.

The Guild is considering creating a new company, Value Plus Media, to be the umbrella parent for the eight Knight Ridder papers. The company's ownership would be shared between one or more "worker friendly" private equity firms and the employees of the eight papers, who would participate through Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP's). Although ESOP participants "own" the company for which they're working, their shares are held by a legal trust and are sold only when the employees leave or retire. The Guild would not participate in the new company.

"There is a lot of interest in our proposal among various stakeholders in the news industry," said TNG-CWA president, Linda Foley. "People who work in this business care about what's happening in journalism as a result of the current climate of consolidation and cost cutting understand that there is a need for a different ownership model. We look forward to working with anyone who shares this view."

A senior management team, one that employees have a hand in choosing, would run the ESOP. The Guild is seeking input from union members, Knight Ridder "alumni" and other newspaper industry people. A Value Plus advisory board of newspaper, media, philanthropic and community leaders is being put together to help create a pool of prospective senior management candidates.

Knight Ridder, however, has dismissed the Guild's proposal, saying it won't break up the company.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), which has 90,000 members, said last month it wants "an urgent national conversation about how to preserve public-service journalism in light of the likely sale of the Knight Ridder company.

"We acknowledge that newspapers cannot serve their domestic role unless they stay in business. But the increasing corporate pressure to squeeze additional returns out of already profitable newspapers, at rates exceeding the margins in most other industries, has skewed the balance between journalism and commerce.

"Though there is disagreement about what should happen at Knight Ridder ... there is broad consensus within journalism community that it should not be allowed to fall into the hands of those unwilling to guarantee the continuity of public-service journalism."

This article first appeared in the February/March 2006 edition of the Walkley Magazine.


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