Nailing your own coffin

The editorial Guild at Time Inc., which was a pretty damned toothless, dickless organization when I was there, now proves itself to be brainless, too, as it leads its members forthrightly into the past. It just won a contract demand to prevent magazine editors from requiring Guild members to contribute to the web.

Idiots. The Guild should be demanding instead that its members should all be permitted, encouraged, and trained to work for the web. The web is the future. But the Guild assures that its members will die with trees. This means that its members will not be qualified to work in the omnimedia future present. And tactically, it means that management now has every motive to get rid of print people and hire newer, cheaper, younger, more qualified web people.

Yes, I know, the Guild’s issue is that it does not cover web-site employees. So it is acting in the self-interest of the Guild only, not in the interest of its members and their careers or in the interest of the industry and its future.

When I was at Time Inc., the Guild was voluntary and thus was the club of losers. Now it assuring its members that lot in life.

: LATER: See a Guild response from Bill O’Meara in teh comments.

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  • “the Guild’s issue is that it does not cover web-site employees.”

    Right, and they typically miss the point altogether. The grand problem of institutions that are stuck inside a certain kind of thinking is that they keep missing these forest/trees distinctions. If you *aren’t* adhering to the arranging-deck-chairs party line of the print media biz, you look at this (accurate) statement about the Guild and say, “Well, then, prima facia, the Guild should *expand* its mandate to cover web-site employees. The point is the function, not the venue.”

    But, of course, the print media business has fooled itself into thinking that it has always been in the *newspaper* (or magazine) business, instead of the news (i.e. content etc.) business. They’re monomaniacal about the “newspaperiness” of the whole venture. Yet out in the real world, most news consumers don’t care a bit about getting their news printed on pulp or calendared stock. They want what they want when they want it.

    The Guild, like the rest of its industry, should be in the business of giving consumers what they want when they want it, not pursuing the Quixotic mission of forcing customers to do it the way the current members/managers of the media would like them to. Alas . . .

  • Bill O’Meara

    If any of the reporters who covered this story had bothered to check with anyone from the Guild, they woud have learned that the union made no such contract demand during negotiations. Believe it or not, it was Time Inc. management that made the proposal to make web work voluntary!

    In fact, the Guild argued long and hard to make the magazine and web work completely interchangeable. Management refused to go along because it would have required them to cover the web workers under the Guild contract, and maybe pay them a bit better.

    By the way, the provision in question does not even appear in the contract…it is actually part of a settlement reached regarding unfair labor practice charges filed by the Guild. If nothing else, that language may provide some relief for reporters, especially those at People magazine, who are working seven days a week trying to offer comprehensive coverage of such major “stories” as Britney’s latest stint at re-hab.

    Finally, the Guild has helped lead the way for print reporters to make the transition to the Web. For example, we’ve worked with the New York Times to fully integrate their print and web staffers. Our members at Consumer Reports magazine also produce one of the most successful websites. There are other examples, too.

    The Guild does see the future, and we intend to be a part of it.

  • this consumer still wants type on paper and the speed of the www and the package of tv news (standard def is fine by me)

  • Bill,

    Fair enough. But you still agreed to this and my criticism of it stands.

    And as for the game of who-started-it, did this come from a grievance out of Fortune, as the WWD piece says?

    You say, “we intend to be part of it.” What does that mean other than trying to have jurisdiction and membership? Is the Guild training its members for the multimedia present? Getting companies to offer that training? Making it easy for companies in trouble to reinvent themselves online?

  • Bill O’Meara


    The WWD story got that part wrong, too. The language in question resulted from the settlement of an Unfair Labor Practice charge that we filed with the National Labor Relations Board in connection with our contract negotiations over Time Inc.’s “merit” pay system, with which I am sure you are familiar. We agreed to it as part of an overall settlement with the company, knowing full well (and expecting) that many of our members will continue to file to the web. They know, as we do, the direction the business is moving.

    As I said, at least it may offer some relief from the overwork that has become rampant following the massive layoffs and buyouts that took place earlier this year.

    Think about it, Jeff… if the Guild were so “toothless,” how could we have
    “won” such a non-sensical “demand” from Time Inc.? A “demand” that is not in the best interests of the employees we represent, or the company?

    It just doesn’t make sense. I’ve already explained my view of the company’s motivation.

    As to training our members for the future…you bet we are helping to do that. We have made available to our members the CWA/Nett Academy, which provides on-line and hands-on education in loads of related software and skills, such as digital photography, etc. You can see for yourself by following this link:

    In addition, nearly all our major contracts provide some type of training provision or tuition reimbursement for job-related courses, etc.

    We also recently sponsored an extremely well-attended forum designed to help young and aspiring journalists know what skills they will need to have
    to get a job and be successful.

    We just last week agreed to a Fellowship and mentoring program at Newsweek.

    The New York Times (the newspaper industry is certainly troubled) is in the process of re-inventing itself on the web. We negotiated a more “modern” contract for web work and are currently discussing more flexible rules for the use of print staffers on the web.

    So, your criticism may stand…but I certainly don’t agree with it.


  • Thanks, Bill,

    That’s good and heartening news on the training — so necessary for everyone concerned and I do think we’ve too often seen people leave and be replaced because either the company didn’t want to retrain them or because the employee was too hesitant. I’d like very much to hear more about that.

    Our disagreement about the settlement — apart from WWD and then me getting the facts wrong (and I apologize) — is that I think every employee of a print publication should see him or herself instead as an employee of the brand and service in any medium. And I’m not talking about jurisdiction. I”m talking about knowledge, experience, mindset, culture, and the work product itself. Alan Rusbridger at the Guardian (where, full disclosure, I write and consult) told all his employees this year that every journalist is a digital journalist and the demands of digital are preeminent. From both the company’s and the employees’ (read: Guild’s) perspective, I would have hoped that would be the language we’re hearing out of Time Inc. To separate them — or to motivate either side to separate them for any reason including training, hiring, and jurisdiction — is suicidal.

    But again, having said that, I salute you for pushing the training and I”m glad to hear that.

  • Bill O’Meara

    I agree with you that we all need to be “platform agnostic” in order to succeed. While it may have taken some of them a long time to realize it, most of the organizations we deal with now recognize and accept that fact. We are more than willing to work with them to accomplish that goal. We absolutely understand that the company has to thrive or else the employees will be left without jobs.

  • Linda Foley

    In addition to the training, job advice seminar and the other initiatives in NY cited by Bill O’Meara, I would also like to point out that on Oct. 26-27 the University of Md. College of Journalism is sponsoring a forum on the future of news industry jobs. This forum is a joint project of UMD, the Guild, and our sister union, National Association of Broadcasting Employees and Technicians (NABET). (Details can be found at We began with a comprehensive survey of news, advertising and circulation workers — probing how their jobs had changed and what they think the future holds. We hope, among other things, to gain some additional insight into what training would be valuable to news industry workers. It’s open to anyone who’s interested.
    Also, I was taken aback by your characterization of the Guild at Time in your opening salvo. I was offended by your description of us as “dickless.” As the first woman president of the Guild, you can understand why equating male sex organs with strength and toughness would stick in my craw.

  • Bill O’Meara

    Your readers may also be interested in this follow-up story from PR Week.