Forcing your own paper out of business?

Drivers at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune are threatening a strike.

I could see a few interesting unintended consequences for the drivers: (A) This forces the paper out of business. They lose their jobs. (B) This forces the paper to go online only and the company takes advantage of bankruptcy to kill contracts with not only drivers but also pressmen and everyone except journalists needed for online (not just fewer of the print staff but new jobs: blogging reporters and community organizers) and sales (not just the sales people you used to have, but people who can support networks of community sales). I’d also try to get out of my leases and every other cost burden and come out of the strike and bankruptcy as a newer and smaller but now profitable new kind of news organization.

If I were a manager at the Strib and had Plan B ready, I’d darned near hope the Teamsters go out on strike. Buh-bye now. Hello future.

: LATER: I just spoke with a media attorney to make sure I wasn’t nuts. It also occurs to me that The New York Times Company should force the Boston Globe – assuming they were smart enough to set it up as a separate entity – into bankruptcy. It’s losing $85 million a year. They saved only $20 with recent concessions. It could bring The New York Times down. Time for radical surgery.

  • Dennis

    I think for years the unions have been doing everything they can to destroy business, and in the process their own jobs. If the company doesn’t make money, how can they hire the union people.

    Thanks for the Twit’s

    Regards

    Dennis (Twitter – dl4jones)

    • Jimmy

      This is a very narrow-minded view of unions. Since when is a fair wage anti-business? Why must employees be paid little more than minimum wage with no benefits in order for a business to be successful?

      I’m not saying he union isn’t at fault in this particular case, none of us know that for a fact, but the problems with these papers was not caused by unions. It was caused by mismanagement and an unwillingness to change. Stop blaming unions, which have done more to help all workers, and start looking at the six-figure salaried managers who share the largest portion of blame. Many of the benefits we take for granted these days were spearheaded by unions.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        Well, if the business isn’t profitable, there is no business and there are no jobs. It’s economics. This is not an emotional debate about fault. It’s hard business. Those managers and those unions will all go, if that makes you happy.

      • Andy Freeman

        > Stop blaming unions, which have done more to help all workers, and start looking at the six-figure salaried managers who share the largest portion of blame.

        How do you know these things are true?

        > Many of the benefits we take for granted these days were spearheaded by unions.

        So what? That doesn’t make them good today.

      • Jimmy

        >Well, if the business isn’t profitable, there is no business and there are no jobs. It’s economics. This is not an emotional debate about fault. It’s hard business. Those managers and those unions will all go, if that makes you happy.

        Why must you be so condescending? Well, duh, there is no business if it’s not profitable. I’m not referring to this particular example. I’m saying unions are not the blame for business ills. Nor does offering benefits to employees make businesses unprofitable. Bad management does.

        >So what? That doesn’t make them good today.

        I’m not even sure how to respond to that. It really makes no sense. Offering benefits to your employees is not a good thing? Wow!

      • Andy Freeman

        > I’m not even sure how to respond to that. It really makes no sense. Offering benefits to your employees is not a good thing? Wow!

        The claim was that unions are good today because they provided some good in the past.

        My point is that that doesn’t matter – either they’re providing good today, or they’re dead weight.

        I note that non-unionized folks get benefits. And, thanks to Obama, their employers will get loans on better terms.

  • http://www.WithoutWarningCoach.com Rodney Johnson

    Being from the St Paul side of town, a couple things come to mind. First, what are they thinking – looks to me like Darwinism at its best. Second, Minneapolis-St Paul remains one of the smaller major cities that still has two newspapers still in circulation. I can only imagine that the folks over at the Pioneer Press (St Paul) are seeing an opportunity to extend the time before they must meet up with the grim reeper.

  • Bob Neal

    The typical canard from union pushers, “gee, what have you got against a ‘fair wage’?” Nothing of course, but a fair wage is defined by the free market. A union monopolizes the supply of labor, raising the cost above the ‘fair wage’ and leaving the business less nimble, with higher costs than competitive businesses.

    A fair wage is what each employee will agree to be paid for the work they are employed for. In the market, the employer will pay what each employee is willing to accept for the work being performed. If the wage is deemed unfair by the available labor, the employer won’t be able to fill the job.

    Basic economics – something neither the unions nor the Democrat Party understand.

  • Andre

    Jeff, I see in your thinking the consideration of P&L items. This is good and right. In a case of bankruptcy the shareholders will loose there fortune (the value of the shares). Only if there is no market for the shares and if the sum of the assets of the company (real estate, printing machines, copyrights, trademarks etc) are less then the debts both, shares and assets, haven’t be considered in the bankruptcy case.
    It is also possible that the shareholder gave guarantees, loans and other liabilities to the Boston Globe Company – all that has to be considered, too.

  • Peter Weinberger

    I’d like to know how much these drivers are currently getting paid. They talk about a fair wage. Would anyone be surprised if they are making $30 per hour with benefits? Does anyone think they might have a little difficulty finding a similar paying job after the newspaper goes out of business? McDonald’s is hiring.

  • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

    I agree with Bob Neal – the “fair wage” for a job that no one wants/needs is $0. I’m sympathetic to the workers who’s jobs were once high-value and are now becoming unnecessary – after all, they still have families to feed, etc., but that doesn’t mean that a fair wage equals a living wage for everyone. These folks need to get training & get into a new field ASAP (or move from company to company, chasing those employers who haven’t succumbed to the change yet).

    That said, putting your own company in bankruptcy is sticky business. After all, it’s the shareholders’ company, not the managements’. Management would have to prove to the shareholders that it’s in their (long-term?) finanical interest to take that route. Otherwise, it’s a violation of fiduciary duty.

    • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

      Sorry, I meant to add: IANAL.

  • Pingback: Why the Boston Globe needs to go bankrupt « Mediascaper

  • Rob Levine

    People who object to unions ought to work weekends – which wouldn’t exist without them.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      What a ridiculous line of cant. Another of your picket signs. One cannot object to unions resisting change (as one may object to management resisting change) without being accused of such as this?

  • Pingback: Forcing your own paper out of business? « BuzzMachine « Business Blog

  • Solitude

    Maybe the only real choice is between bankruptcy now, and getting in line with outstretched palm the other creditors….
    Or granting concessions which have tended to include your pension fund investing heavily in a pretty doomed company while your wages go down.

    At the end, the company will still go bankrupt.
    Only you will have moved over to the other side, and those outstretched palms from the creditors are dipping into what used to be your pension.

    Care to try to rebut the likelihood of that scenario?

    I am up for debate, and I like a cheap win.

  • http://www.WithoutWarningCoach.com Rodney Johnson

    Jeff, I think its worth noting since the concept of bankruptcy has entered the discussion and how this would help the company tear up existing contracts. UPDATE!!! The Minneapolis Star Tribune entered bankruptcy mid-January of 2009.

    Does this change ideas, comments and potential outcome?

  • Rob Levine

    >>>What a ridiculous line of cant. Another of your picket signs. One cannot object to unions resisting change (as one may object to management resisting change) without being accused of such as this?

    My picket sign, if I have one, is that I’d like to see those who deserve the blame share the pain. When it comes to the NYT, for example,I hear far more about “inflated” union salaries than I do about the decisions to buy the IHT, build a fancy new headquarters and send Tom Friedman to Dubai to interview a sheik and a couple of cab drivers. And yet whose salary gets cut? That’s not cant, Jeff, that’s asking the hard questions.

    Here’s another one: Why isn’t anyone picketing Huffington, who undermines salaries by inducing people to work for free and has reputation for treating employees like household help? At the very least, shouldn’t someone question her habit of presenting herself as some kind of progressive?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Oh, I have blamed the executives who gave journalism bad stewardship just as I have blamed the journalists who resisted change.

      As for Huffington: Welcome to the open market. Those people want to write there and do so because they get value. You want to shame them out of it? This, still, is about emotion, not economics. Journalism will survive and prosper only if it finds its place in the new economy. Protesting won’t get us there. Innovation will.

      • Rob Levine

        >>>Those people want to write there and do so because they get value. You want to shame them out of it?

        Actually,that’s exactly what I want to do! Our sense of shame, until we lost it, was a very powerful way to reinforce social norms, including salaries. And this is very much about economics rather than emotion. There are only so many ways to make sure someone doesn’t undercut you in the labor market: Block others from entering the market (AMA, bar associations), negotiate lifetime employment (university tenure!), get a geographical advantage (plumbers, etc.), form a union (see above) or get your friends to set your salary (CEOs). Without any of these, I think shame is very powerful. So I think it’s worth trying.

        This has little to do with innovation. Look at Gawker: Very innovative. But a look at employee turnover suggests it’s not a very good place to work. Now look at most glossy magazines: Not so innovative, much better money, benefits, job security, etc. As more innovative companies like HuffPo succeed, I think it will be terrible for the salary of the average journalist, unless pressure is put on people to stop working for free. Hence my word of the day: Cyberscabs.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          What an abhorrent attack on free speech: You want to shame people out of writing and speaking out of their own passion and pleasure because you think you own the right to writing? Count me out. The true man of the people would celebrate the voice of the people, not try to shut them off. You are trying to protect your priesthood. I am trying to tear down your cathedral walls.

        • Rob Levine

          That is nonsense! First, this has NOTHING to do with free speech. Was it an attack on free speech when a womens rights group shamed New York magazine out of running escort ads? They weren’t saying that the magazine didn’t have the _right_ to run these ads – just that it was irresponsible to do so. I’d suggest doing the same to Craig Newmark. I’ll start the ball rolling: He has every right to speak at CUNY but his appearance there made me ashamed that I teach there. (Understand: I certainly think he has interesting things to say, but he should speak at a business school.) That’s MY free speech. Let the best argument win.

          As for
          >>>You want to shame people out of writing and speaking out of their own passion and pleasure because you think you own the right to writing?

          Oh, come on – I don’t want to rob people of passion and pleasure. I’m talking about shaming Arianna Huffington, who wants to turn that passion and pleasure into an IPO. I’m talking about shaming Facebook, which ha asserted that it owns every word of that passion and pleasure. I’m talking about shaming Jimmy Wales, who has turned that passion and pleasure into a flailing for-profit venture (Wikia), an expense account that has been questioned by his nonprofit group and a series of attempts to alter the record about his own past.

          One of the things I do for fun is work on restoring an old convertible. This is my passion and pleasure. On a good day, my car gleams. But if I showed up at GM and volunteered to work for free, most people would say I was a moron for letting them take advantage of me. Same goes for Huffington’s cyberscabs.

          One more thing; I’m troubled by how often you cast any criticism of your position in conservative terms. If you won’t reduce my argument to defending the priesthood, I won’t reduce yours to defending the Davos crowd at the expense of working writers and creative people.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Welcome to the future, Rob. You don’t control it anymore. That was the past. Now everyone has a printing press and they’ll do with it what they please, whether or not it pleases you. You can’t create a closed shop of speech.

        • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

          There are only so many ways to make sure someone doesn’t undercut you in the labor market: [paraphrasing here: barriers to entry, long-term deals, unions, corruption/favors, shame]

          I find it interesting, Rob, that “providing a value comensurate with what you’re getting paid” is not among your list. I would think it would be at the top.

          Jeff is right that the new economy is hastening this along, but the concept is as old as Supply & Demand itself.

        • Robert Levine

          @ Brian, have you ever been in the work force? CEOs are paid well because their friends set their salaries. Consultants are paid well because they market themselves well – most who I’ve met don’t know anything. (I did a bit of conslutting and made more money than I’ve ever made even though I didn’t know what I was talking about.) In your formulation public school teachers are worth nothing compared to AIG executives – who lost _billions_! Anyone who worships the market ought to be having a crisis of meaning right now. Where’s yours?

          @ Jeff, please save lines like “welcome to the future” for your Power Point presentation. I’ve been living here – and making a living – for quite some time.

          Here’s a great example of a journalist holding Queen Huffington I accountable: http://adage.com/mediaworks/article?article_id=136968

          Why aren’t you asking any of these tough questions?

        • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

          As it happens, I’m in the workforce right now and have been for the past 18 years (including twelve as a consultant). As a result, I’m fairly confident in pointing out that you might get paid well as a “consultant who doesn’t know what he’s talking about” once (maybe twice), but eventually, that well runs dry. In my current position, I hire consultants all the time. Those that provide value at or above their fees get asked back. Those that don’t get shown the door.

          As for school teachers and AIG executives: school teachers are worth their weight in gold, but so many people are willing to do that noble job for so little pay, that the markets have taken most of the money off of the table. My (suburban NJ) hometown recently had an opening for an elementary school teacher and got 450 applicants. As a taxpayer, why would I dream of raising the salary on a job that gets a 450:1 applicant/opening ratio? AIG executives are a much rarer breed (I’ll skip over the crack about “losing billions” and simply point you here and here, where I hopefully debunk this myth that AIG’s sole purpose was to steal money from the average homeowner and put it in the pockets of some nameless, faceless executive). If an executive opsition at AIG opened up, far fewer than 450 people would be considered qualified, much less interviewed. As such, the pay that smaller group would demand in order to go work for AIG (as opposed to UBS or Barclays or some other institution) is much higher.

          I’m happy to debate the wisdom of free markets with you in blog comments – it’s an interesting intellectual exercise. The empirical evidence, though, is squarely on my side.

        • Robert Levine

          >>>AIG executives are a much rarer breed

          This is certainly true.

          At our company a veteran, respected consultant recommended disabling the “reply all” function on everyone’s email. Money well spent!

          At this point, can anyone really believe in the wisdom of the market? There’s a big difference between cost – or price – and value. For example, music generates a lot of VALUE for YouTube and Facebook. But not much MONEY – labels and musicians don’t get paid. My own reporting generates VALUE for many other sites, which steal or paraphrase it. But I do not receive MONEY.

          @ Jeff, look at this: http://gawker.com/5275790/will-arianna-huffington-be-paying-you-this-month

          Time for you to ask some tough questions of Arianna as well as newspaper publishers. We’re waiting.

        • Andy Freeman

          > Oh, come on – I don’t want to rob people of passion and pleasure. I’m talking about shaming Arianna Huffington

          Oh really? Let’s review.

          First Jarvis.

          >>>>Those people want to write there and do so because they get value. You want to shame them out of it?

          Then the response

          >Actually,that’s exactly what I want to do!

          Maybe you changed your mind. Maybe you mispoke. Maybe something else, but you weren’t talking about shaming Huffington.

          > I won’t reduce yours to defending the Davos crowd at the expense of working writers and creative people.

          Since when are the Huffington post writers “the davos crowd”?

      • http://www.peterysussman.com Peter Y. Sussman

        Responding to Rob Levine, whose comment I just chanced upon — and for the benefit of Webster’s and American Heritage, when they come calling — I claim the word “cyberscab,” which I coined in a blog post on sfgate.com last March (reprinted on my web site, peterysussman.com).

  • Eric Gauvin

    Jeff,

    >>>What a ridiculous line of cant. Another of your picket signs. One cannot object to unions resisting change (as one may object to management resisting change) without being accused of such as this?

    When you say that you “object to unions resisting change” (as you now mildly put it), the change you’re talking about is no unions, isn’t it?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Not over the last 15 years, no. Unions could have helped update their industries – newspapers, automotive, etc. But today, the economic reality is that papers will die, taking all those jobs with them. How will the value of them survive – the journalism? As a new company that simply doesn’t need printers and drivers anymore, just as it no longer needed linotype operators two decades ago.

  • http://www.scoopingthenews.com Scooping the News

    Jeff,

    Here is a video your readers might enjoy. It certainly pertains to this topic. Basically, it discusses which newspapers are leading the way in online and print readership, and it talks about which newspapers are in danger of going out of print.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmrqoDgkbJg

    Thanks,
    Chas

  • http://www.geise.com PXLated

    “no longer needed linotype operators two decades ago”
    ———-

    Thanks for the reminder Jeff…

    When I first read the drivers were threatening to strike, it reminded me of the typesetters union back in the early 70s (71 I think) here in Mpls., striking right at the beginning of the corporate annual report season. They thought it a good time as all public corporations have to produce their report within x days of the end of their fiscal year and most were at the new year so march/april. They thought that provided leverage. Photo typesetting was just at its infancy, all small non-union shops and somewhat experimental, not many using it.
    I was a designer doing annual reports, I had to get it done (by law), I had no choice but to go seek out cold type. That strike drove all of us designers to cold type and hastened the demise of hot metal and the typesetters union.
    That strike made cold type acceptable. That lead to a flurry of innovation in typesetting systems and flexibility in what we designers could do. That innovation in digital type lead to the Mac and desktop publishing and digital type display on computer screens and website display.
    So, drivers, please do strike and lets get on with the future here in Mpls.

  • Tom

    I think there are some very unfair comments on the unions and workers; it’s all great and nice a shiny future if you’re web-literate and doing ok and have a good education, but some workers, esp. if driving is all you know how to do and have a family to support – then the threat of or removal of your labour is all you have.

    In addition, many of the things (esp. here in the UK) we take for granted; paid lunch break, holiday and sick pay, 5 day week and so on came from unions and workers fighting hard. IMHO we owe some respect to that legacy.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Unions and their members have to update for the new world just as companies do. They’re in the same boat. It’s a new world. No amount of fairness changes the reality of the new economy.

  • http://justiceeroom.blogspot.com/ Lawrence Butts

    I agree Jeff – the pace of change demands that everyone adapt!

  • Pingback: The Alien News Network And A Link Dump | NewsTechZilla

  • Pingback: Buy the Globe for the price of a Globe « BuzzMachine