Let's turn Metpro back into a program we can be proud of

In his first address to the Los Angeles Times newsroom, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong shared his commitment to fostering diversity in our workplace. 

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A child of Chinese immigrants -- and an immigrant himself -- he said he wanted our ranks to “better reflect the diversity of the communities and audiences we seek to serve.”

By overhauling the Times’ Metpro Program, Soon-Shiong and our executive editor, Norman Pearlstine, can do just that. 

The Times launched Metpro, originally called the Minority Editorial Training Program, 34 years ago as a way to build a pipeline and provide opportunities for journalists of color, many with diverse backgrounds. 
 
But as layoffs and cutbacks have chipped away at the newsroom, so too have they chipped away at Metpro and its original intentions. Graduates of the program who joined The Times as full-time staffers contend with depressed wages and say they feel like second-class journalists.

In response, the L.A. Times Guild’s Equity & Diversity Committee created a report, available here, based on a survey of Metpro graduates from the past 20 years. The Guild received about 50 responses from current and former staff members, who shared their experiences in the program.

Some key recommendations: 

  • The program should be limited to people with a certain amount of experience in a professional newsroom, up to three years. Candidates with master’s degrees would still qualify. Because Metpro has become a way to bring in experienced journalists into the Times newsroom and underpay them, we must reassess who is an ideal candidate to ensure that Metpro is no longer exploitative. 
  • Metpro should be 18 months — and heavily structured. The first four weeks will be training. There will be three rotations, each 16 weeks. At the end of the first year, after a comprehensive evaluation, a Metpro will be placed into the final six months of the program. If the Metpro is a reporter, he or she will be assigned to a specific beat with a specific editor. 
  • Metpros should be given a pay increase, as proposed by the bargaining committee. (Current pay is $850/week, before taxes.) Additionally, Metpros should be provided with a moving stipend. If hired as full-time staff, Metpros should be paid minimum reporter or other salaries as established by bargaining. 
  • A Metpro will receive their first formal evaluation at eight weeks of the first rotation with relevant supervisors and Metpro director.
  • A volunteer panel of former Metpros will form and meet regularly, checking in with current Metpros and hosting events throughout the year to ensure Metpros meet a variety of people in the newsroom. The panel will also help the Metpro director assign mentors. 

To be clear: The Times should continue the Metpro program. It is a program that has brought much talent to The Times.

But Metpro cannot continue in its current form. To become the prestigious job training fellowship it was designed to be, the program requires a significant overhaul – one that will allow the Times to continue hiring and retaining motivated, ambitious journalists who are crucial to the newspaper’s success.

Read the report here. 

Guild’s Equity and Diversity Committee.

Welcome to the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Soon-Shiong!

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The Los Angeles Times Guild would like to congratulate Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong on completing his purchase of The Times. After 18 years under chain ownership, The Times is back under local control

We would like to say farewell to our fellow journalists across Tronc. The last few years have been especially hard. We still stand with you.

We look forward to further meetings with Dr. Soon-Shiong to hear his plans going forward. 
We, too, have a message for him: We think it's time for the Los Angeles Times to think big again.

Newspapers are a tough business. But they’re not an impossible business. The New York Times makes more revenue from subscriptions than from advertising. The Washington Post reinvested in its newsroom and won many new loyal readers.

We once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them. And we can again.

Look around. California is the nation's wealthiest, most populous and most dynamic state. It's home to the tech, entertainment and agriculture industries. We are the gateway between America and the Pacific Rim; we serve as the crossroads between Asia and Latin America. It’s no surprise that East Coast media outlets increasingly crave our readers.

We think the American West is ready for the return of its most historically dominant news organization — a bold, ambitious, independent Los Angeles Times that informs its readers and questions the status quo.

It will take work. We suffered mightily under Sam Zell, bankruptcy and Tronc. We lost far too much reporting and editing muscle in layoffs and buyouts. Many talented journalists left on their own, taking new jobs because they went years without raises or because they lost faith in their leaders. 

Others who stayed have been similarly neglected. Dozens of newsroom workers who were hired for temporary positions have now labored alongside us for years as poorly paid contractors. And there are the stark gaps in pay for women and journalists of color — as documented in a recent report by the Guild.

This is why we were the first journalists in the 136-year history of The Times to unionize. We must make repairs. 

You can bring back hope by investing in the newsroom. Give journalists better security, give them a strategy they can believe in, give them independence.

Do that, and this can be a place where top-flight journalists around the country want to work. Do that, and paying readers will follow.

Despite all the storm clouds in this industry — and in this country — optimism is contagious. Doing something that’s never been done before at the Los Angeles Times is not impossible. After all, we would know.

— The Los Angeles Times Guild

Congratulations to Patrick Soon-Shiong

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We would like to congratulate Patrick Soon-Shiong as the new owner of the Los Angeles Times.

Our readers expect and deserve the high-quality, independent journalism that has defined The Times for decades. This is important to Los Angeles, California and the nation.

The L.A. Times Guild looks forward to working with a local owner who can help us preserve The Times as a guardian of our community and as the voice of the American West.

The Los Angeles Times Guild Steering Committee
 

The Los Angeles Times Guild has been certified!

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The National Labor Relations Board certified the results of our 248-44 vote tally today, making it official: The Los Angeles Times newsroom is unionized. As editor-in-chief Jim Kirk said yesterday at the all-hands meeting, "It's what we collectively do that makes this place great." This victory is just one example of that.

A key issue remains unresolved: the status of dozens of journalists the company fought to exclude from the unit and challenged on election day. Tronc is able to drop those challenges at any point, but if it won't, we are ready to fight for the voices of our colleagues. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us to get to the bargaining table. We'll send more information to the membership about that very soon.

Congratulations again on this historic victory.

— The L.A. Times Guild organizing committee

 

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Tronc execs need to come clean about their plans for the LA Times

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Dear Colleagues:

As journalists, we demand transparency from the people we cover. As employees of the Los Angeles Times, we demand the same of the executives who run our company.

This week, various media reports, including a lengthy investigation in the Huffington Post, suggested Tronc is building a media entity called Los Angeles Times Network that is not part of the Los Angeles Times — with editorial hires that report to the business side. 

This raises a morass of journalistic and ethical questions. 

We have grave concerns about this matter and have requested information from Tronc's management team — which they have declined to provide. Why a communications company built on the idea of publishing the truth wouldn't be truthful with its employees is beyond comprehension. But rest assured that our newsroom remains mobilized and powerful and we are covered by legal protections. 

We will make our voices heard. And as we investigate and learn more about these developments, we will report back to you.

As a reminder: We are in a period called "status quo," which means that the company can no longer make unilateral changes to our benefits or working conditions — that includes any attempt to outsource the work that we do. Moreover, if the company tries to grill frontline workers about media leaks or anything else, they have a right to have a union representative during the meeting.

We have rights. You have rights. The Guild is here for you.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns or think your rights have been violated, please reach out to an organizer or get in touch at hello@latguild.com.

The Los Angeles Times Guild organizing committee

Letter to the newsroom regarding Ross Levinsohn's "pyramid" plan

We have serious concerns about the plan’s impact on our newsroom and our journalism, and we’d like to remind Tronc of its obligations under the National Labor Relations Act. Simply put, Tronc is required to give us notice and bargain over changes to our working conditions. That obligation extends to this Forbes-style “Los Angeles Times Network” and its effect on our newsroom.

Los Angeles Times newsroom votes for union

Today we made history.

For the first time since the Los Angeles Times printed its inaugural edition in 1881, our journalists have voted to form a union. The vote was 248 to 44 — 85% YES!

We've long been a proud voice for our readers. Finally, we can be a proud voice for ourselves. Anyone familiar with the history of The Times -- and of Los Angeles itself -- knows the significance of what we've just accomplished.

In the weeks ahead, you'll be hearing about how you can run for leadership positions to represent yourself and your colleagues as we prepare for our contract negotiations with Tronc. We need leaders who are willing to fight tooth and nail for every worker and for every department.

We encourage everyone to get involved, even if you were not a part of the union election campaign. The union we've created belongs to everyone. There is no better time to get involved.

—The L.A. Times Guild Organizing Committee

Not fit to lead the Los Angeles Times

We are appalled by the findings in the NPR story.

Ross Levinsohn should resign or be fired immediately. A man who sexually harasses women, engages in “slut-shaming” and refers to gay men as “fags” is not fit to lead our newspaper.

Tronc and its board of directors must be held accountable for their failure to properly vet Levinsohn for one of the most important positions at the company and in American journalism.

We demand an independent investigation to examine how Levinsohn was hired given his documented history of misconduct; whether he acted inappropriately toward Times employees during his tenure as publisher; and how the company and board have responded previously to allegations of sexual misconduct by newspaper leaders.

-- Members of the Los Angeles Times Guild organizing committee
 

Today we make history

Colleagues, 

Today is a historic day for the Los Angeles Times. It's time to make your mark. This is our closing argument.

For 136 years — through wars, through earthquakes, through riots — this newsroom has never had a union.

Our longtime owners, the Chandlers, prided themselves on keeping out unions by treating their employees well. 

We all know what happened next. The Chandlers left. They were replaced by a series of incompetent owners. Sam Zell drove us into bankruptcy. Management only knew how to do one thing: cut staff and benefits.

We had no way to speak up for ourselves. We had no voice to demand modest raises to keep up with inflation. We had no leverage to stop the company from stripping away our paid time off.

We did not have a union. And we have paid the price.

No longer.

Today’s vote will determine whether we join all of our peers in the industry as a union-represented newsroom. The New York Times. The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press. Reuters. Dozens of other newspapers around the country.

We know what we want. It's nothing extraordinary. Regular raises to keep up with the cost of inflation. Better parental leave policies. Equal pay and better treatment for women and journalists of color. Just-cause firing protections. Better severance packages. A voice to safeguard our ethical standards and the quality of our journalism.

A fair shake from management.

Tronc has fought our effort by trying to scare us with lies, while trying to pit us against each other.

Tronc has tried to suggest younger workers want to take pay away from older workers. (They don't.)

Tronc has tried to suggest the union is an outside party trying to impose itself on our newsroom. (We approached the NewsGuild, not the other way around.)

Tronc has tried to suggest there isn't enough money for raises for everyone. (Two weeks before this election, Tronc chairman Michael Ferro decided to start paying himself $5 million a year for a "consulting" contract. And compensation for his top executives has ballooned by 80 percent.)

There's a reason Tronc has been trying to scare you out of voting for the union. There's a reason they've been fighting so hard against us.

They want a free hand to give us less and less.

To our supporters, we thank you for your help during all these hard months. It's been a pleasure getting to know all of you and to hear your thoughts on how we can save this proud newsroom. 

To our coworkers who have been on the fence, we hope you've heard our arguments and will decide to join us at the polls.

To some of our colleagues who are opposed to this effort, we want you to know this: No matter what, we will fight for you, every day, tooth and nail. And we hope we can win you over when you see the gains we can make together.

And to Tronc — we'll see you at the bargaining table.

— The Los Angeles Times Guild Organizing Committee

The real story from the L.A. Times pressroom

Below is a statement given to us by longtime Times pressman Cesar Calderon, who responds to the management email featuring his co-worker Lee Carey, an anti-union activist. 

 Cesar Calderon

My name is Cesar Calderon, and I’ve been in the L.A. Times pressroom for 34 years. I’m also the president of our local union. I was very amused by what my colleague, Lee Carey, told you in the Tronc video.

Let me set a few things straight. Five times in the past 10 years, Lee has tried to decertify our union with the company’s help. Each time, they failed. All five times, we voted by secret ballot to remain unionized, including last month. What does that tell you?

The union has done a lot for the pressroom. We have a voice. We have a grievance procedure. We have guaranteed vacation pay. We get overtime. We have job protections. We can negotiate all the terms and conditions of our jobs, and we got bonuses for each contract we signed.

I have no doubt that our pay, which is good for our industry, would be much lower without a union. 

Lee used Tronc’s math to try to scare you. The company wanted us to start giving up our vacation pay in exchange for a 401k match. We did the real math and it was easy to see that it would be a bad deal – we would lose time off and money.

And we knew that would probably be the start of what the company would try to take away from us. 

We’ve seen these scare tactics in the past. If you want your voice to be heard, if you want to do better, you need a union.

Good luck on Thursday!