Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Louis guild writes open letter to Junck

The latest newsletter from the St. Louis Newspaper Guild included an open letter to Lee CEO Mary Junck and St. Louis Post-Dispatch publisher Kevin Mowbray. The guild recently said negotiations on a new contract for Post-Dispatch employees has "turned more acrimonious." The letter recaps a bit of Lee/Post-Dispatch history, but never seems to deliver on the build-up. Here it is, in full:
Mary Junck, CEO of Lee Enterprises
Kevin Mowbray, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
And the officers and directors of Lee Enterprises

What it all comes down to is this: You’re just not that into us, and you never were.

From almost Day 1, we couldn’t really understand why Lee Enterprises felt compelled to buy Pulitzer. After all, Lee is a small town corporation; St. Louis, by Midwest standards, is a big city. The biggest of Lee’s newspapers barely reach 100,000 circulation; the Post-Dispatch has daily circulation twice that – and four times that on Sunday. Lee’s newspapers thrive by covering local news in small cities and towns; the Post-Dispatch made its mark covering the world, with a fully staffed Washington bureau.

Most of all, we couldn’t understand why Lee Enterprises, a mostly union-free operation accustomed to dictating terms to its newspapers, would take on insane debt to purchase a unionized paper in a pro-union city whose people react badly to being told what to do by carpetbaggers.

You must have felt that Pulitzer in general, and the Post-Dispatch in particular, would be a media jewel in your corporate crown. We thought that the Post-Dispatch might be a model by which Lee could expand the journalistic reach of its other newspapers. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that your goal was to turn the Post-Dispatch into just another Lee newspaper.

So, starting long before the economy tanked, we watched as scores of our colleagues were bought out and laid off. This may have helped the bottom line but also erased hundreds of years of institutional wisdom and memory on which great newspapers depend. We watched as you gutted the Washington bureau, national desk and wire desk. We watched as you killed the Everyday section and relegated feature writing to the margins, eliminating a brand that St. Louisans had turned to for more than 100 years.

And we sat by while you treated the Post-Dispatch and its employees and retirees with a breathtaking lack of respect. This began as soon as you took the keys to the building, with the inanely hostile act of prohibiting union members from using the Lee Lodge. And it has continued right through contract negotiations and the immoral and, in our view, illegal stripping of paid health insurance from the retired men and women who built this newspaper and worked for decades toward that benefit.
As you have remade the Post-Dispatch in the image of Davenport or Munster, you have told us that we make too much money, as if St. Louis and Davenport, or Munster, were equivalent in any meaningful way.

You have said that even if Lee were “swimming in money,” our retirees wouldn’t get any of it.

And you continue to insist that we take a 23 percent pay cut among other Draconian economic proposals, while rejecting each and every proposal we have given you for saving money or making money.

So here we are. And we’re still wondering: Why did Lee Enterprises buy Pulitzer if its goal was to destroy it?

And here are two more things that you may not have known about the Newspaper Guild five years ago and that you apparently still haven’t learned: You can’t scare us to death, and we will not roll over.
Read the rest of the newsletter on the guild's website.

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