Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Since the last time

When last I wrote on Aug. 9, I reported on our tentative decision to close the Freeman’s pressroom and mailroom and to move those departments’ operations to our sister company in Troy. I also mentioned the possibility of outsourcing our newspaper distribution to a third-party vendor.

Here’s what’s happened in the weeks since:

We have had meetings with unions representing employees who would be impacted by this decision, if it’s made final. We’ve provided the unions with financial data and explanatory documents explaining in detail the thought process that has led to our tentative decision. We’ve also solicited questions, comments and concerns from the unions, and offered them the opportunity to provide proposals of their own. The unions have responded thoughtfully and professionally, and we are in the processing of negotiating the terms of so-called “shutdown agreements,” which would then have to be ratified by the rank-and-file.

Meanwhile, we’ve continued to explore and fine-tune implementation of our tentative decision, should it become final, with our colleagues in Troy. Such important matters as production deadlines and computer protocols are high on our list.

We’re also still working on circulation details with a distribution company, should we decide to go through with this project.

And, I’ve heard directly from representatives of Ulster County and Kingston city government. They’re understandably concerned about the prospects of residents losing jobs. So am I.

There are many moving pieces to this project and each requires considerable attention. The seriousness of the initiative isn’t lost on any of us, in particular because it would impact several dozen employees, full and part time, union and non-union. I can assure the community – as I’ve assured the employees – that none of this is being taken lightly.

I’ll keep you informed in this space.

Monday, August 9, 2010

About those rumors ...

Around this time last year, we were fending off rumors that the Freeman was bankrupt and would soon close. The Freeman wasn’t bankrupt – its parent company had entered bankruptcy proceedings from which it would quickly emerge – and we weren’t going to close. No matter our denials, rumors flourished until they finally had run their course.

Now we’re hearing them again.

This time people they’re about the real possibility of the Freeman moving our production departments out of Kingston. Many in the community apparently have translated that into, the Freeman is moving out of Kingston and/or closing.

Maybe yes, to statement No. 1. A definitive no to statement No. 2.

Here’s the lowdown:

As with many companies in our industry, we are looking for better ways to do business at a time when advertising volume and independently audited circulation numbers (so-called “ABC numbers”) are sliding. We want to bolster our news and sales divisions, but to free up money for those purposes, we need to find economic efficiencies. And find them we have, we believe, if we close our pressroom and mailroom and print our newspaper at our sister company in Troy. Other savings can be realized by outsourcing our newspaper distribution operation -- that is to say, have someone else deliver the paper to homes and stores. Annualized, we’re talking about a considerable sum.

For now, however, nothing is set in stone. We have notified the unions that represent employees in the impacted departments of our tentative decisions and we’re in the process of negotiating over the tentative decisions and their effects if implemented. We hope to be able to make a final decision in about a month. If we move forward, it’s possible we could be on Troy’s press in October. We’ll see.

So how did these tentative decisions to move production and outsource circulation become the source of misinformation? I’m guessing two reasons.

Part of what I just described above (regarding the pressroom and mailroom) is what I related during my monthly appearance on WGHQ radio last week when a caller (whose voice I recognized and who subsequently acknowledged he’s an employee) asked what was going on. (He’d heard rumors, too.) I emphasized what was being considered and that no final decision had been made.

But I’ve been doing radio long enough to know sometimes people hear what they want to hear.

Similarly, notification to the unions understandably created a buzz inside and outside the building among employees, their families and friends. Again, we’ve told the unions about our tentative decisions. They know we’re not closing.

But, again, some people hear what they want to hear.

So, yes, we’ve made tentative decisions to move the printing of our newspaper products to Troy and outsource our newspaper delivery to one of two independent contractors with whom we’re negotiating (and who have been told that we’ve made no final decision).

Again, are the decisions final? No, they’re tentative.

Is the Freeman closing? Absolutely not; indeed we’re aggressively moving along with our parent company’s “Digital First” philosophy, while continuing to publish a print edition of the newspaper that we know has considerable value to readers and advertisers every day of the week.

(By the way, our parent company’s new CEO has made it clear from his first conference call with all employees to his succession of blogs for the edification of all in the industry – naturally, including our employees – that the path to long-term health for newspapers requires a reduction in infrastructure costs such as the cost of printing and distributing our products. Therefore, nobody who works at the Freeman should be surprised that we are exploring these alternatives. The signals have been telegraphed for months.)

I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The big Saturday in Rhinebeck

A couple of hours of strolling the streets of Rhinebeck Saturday afternoon, just before the big wedding a mile or so down the road, led me to several observations (not necessarily in order of importance):

*People were polite, respectful, excited and not at all put out by all the attention and some inconvenience that landed on their doorstep.

*As often occurs when there's precious little hard news to report, the media does a lot of talking to each other. (I must admit, I've seen quite enough of the weekly newspaper editor who popped up on many of the networks and in lots of out-to-town publications, particularly since it doesn't appear that the major "scoop" that drew their attention to him in the first place (Oprah, Ted Turner, Barbra Streisand, John Major and Steven Spielberg on the guest list) was accurate.

*You know the old line about a big event putting a locale "on the map"? Well, I won't use that one here (although I just did), but it sure does seem true that the rave reviews received by Rhinebeck, in general, and its restaurants and shops, in particular, will pay dividends well into the future as people from around the world discover the village for themselves. I mean, who'll not want a table at Gigi's?

*All those TV trucks were parked in the lot behind Foster's Coach House Tavern in Rhinebeck. Good deal for someone, no?

*One TV network didn't position itself along media row on Market Street across from Beekman Arms. There, all by its lonesome, down the block and across Route 9 from the Beek, was the Fox News Channel. I'm just saying.

*The final irony about the hunt for celebrities over the weekend: Celebrities are more or less a common sight in Rhinebeck. On any other Saturday afternoon, seeing a Ted Danson and a Mary Steenburgen walking through the village would result in little more than a nod in their direction.