The Newspaper Guild represents the interests of some 34,000 journalists and they’re preparing to bid on the 12 newspapers that McClatchy is selling. If their offer is successful the purchase will create an unprecedented chain in which employees own the majority of the stock and thus the papers themselves. Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild, discusses the deal with Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Linda Foley is the President of the Newspaper Guild, a union of some 34,000 journalists. The Guild is preparing to bid on twelve newspapers that McClatchy has again put up for sale. Eight of those, incidentally, are already unionized and represented by the Guild. If their bid is successful, the purchase will create an unprecedented chain of employee-owned papers. Linda Foley joins us now. Linda, welcome to the show.
LINDA FOLEY: Thank you, nice to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, what are you trying to achieve here?
LINDA FOLEY: Well, we have two primary goals. One is to make sure that the employees have a stake and a say-so in what happens to them in this transaction, and along with that, that their rights are respected and that our collective bargaining agreements are honored. The second goal is that we believe that journalistic values need to be upheld and need to be part of the business plan of these newspapers in order for them to have the long-term success that they've enjoyed so far. You know, let's be clear that these are not failing businesses. These are businesses that were part of a corporation whose primary shareholder said they're not making enough money to suit me. None of them are losing money. So we really want to make sure that the management that runs these papers does value journalism and good journalism that's been the tradition at these papers heretofore.
BOB GARFIELD: Newspaper reporters are notoriously not well-heeled [CHUCKLES] as a population, and I guess the Newspaper Guild is not the world's richest union. Where do you come up with the capital to acquire twelve newspapers?
LINDA FOLEY: Well, first, I want to correct a misconception about this. The union itself is not investing or not going to own any of these newspapers. We're playing a facilitating role and an advisory role in trying to put this together. The employees themselves will own a piece of this. But the real financing and real backing for this is coming from our partnership with Yucaipa Companies, which is a multibillion-dollar, worker-friendly private equity firm in California. And when they heard what we were trying to do, they agreed that they would put the money up front, and then the employees were going to invest side by side with them in the new company.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's just say that it all works out exactly as you've planned and you're able to help broker the acquisition of these twelve newspapers by the employees of those twelve newspapers. Suddenly, journalists are player-managers. Do the values that inform journalism lend themselves to running a business?
LINDA FOLEY: Well, first of all, in terms of these employee companies, this is no different than if I am a shareholder of Knight Ridder stock. So when we say "employee-owned," they're not going to be running it day to day. There will be a management team that will not be the employees, will not be the reporters, but they will instead be a group of managers who are hired by the shareholders that include the employees. And, by the way, they will have to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Guild. We already sit across the bargaining table from a management hired by employee owners. At the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is one of the oldest employee-owned companies in the country, and also at the Bureau of National Affairs, which is a rather large publishing house that publishes technical publications about government policy and has approximately 2,000 employees, we sit across the bargaining table from the management selected by the employee shareholders. So it can be done. You anticipate that those relationships are going to be more productive and less adversarial, and in a lot of cases, they are, but sometimes they're not.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you a hypothetical, and, you know, I don't have a whole lot of details here. I'm not privy to the negotiations at individual properties. But I know throughout the industry there has been a lot of chafing among journalists at the idea of having to file and re-file and re-file stories all day long to newspaper websites. You know, in the good old days or the bad [CHUCKLES] old days, you used to file one story a day, maybe with one update for a late edition, and that was that. As employees own newspaper properties, aren't they in a peculiar position of fighting themselves in the transition from the old model to the brave new world?
LINDA FOLEY: Actually, I could argue about, you know, why that's frustrating. Some of it is the pace of the work, as you pointed out, and, hey, I'm not finished with that yet and why do I have to put it up on the Web? – and I'm scooping myself. But the other of that has to do with allocation of resources. You know, in some cases the frustration is just because news staff has been cut and pared down so much that you don't have the ability to do that. So, you know, I'm not sure what actually causes that angst, which is part of which, but we anticipate that there'll be a much more cooperative atmosphere in those newsrooms so that as those issues get worked out, because the employees are majority owners and because the management is working for those owners, that there is more of an incentive to work those things out in a more collaborative way.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Linda. Well, thank you very much.
LINDA FOLEY: Well, thank you for calling, and it's been a pleasure to be on your show.
BOB GARFIELD: Linda Foley is the president of the Newspaper Guild. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] And now, an update. Last week we interviewed Ellen Knickmeyer of The Washington Post in Baghdad who reported a significantly higher death toll than did other news outlets in the wake of the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. Substantiated by a trip to the Baghdad morgue, Knickmeyer's story put the death count around 1,300, in contrast to the official count of 379. In response to our story, we received an e-mail from an NPR reporter based in Baghdad. The reporter wrote that though the official number was certainly low, there were nowhere near 1,300 dead, as Knickmeyer claimed. The e-mail goes on to explain that many reporters did, in fact, visit the morgue, contrary to what Knickmeyer told us, and that their contacts have been consistently accurate and never withheld numbers. With no way to fact-check the dead, the numbers will continue to be lost in the fog for Knickmeyer and everyone else, further complicating the near-impossible task of reporting from Iraq. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Coming up, on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we look back at war reporting through the ages. This is On the Media from NPR.