Buffalo Newspaper Guild

CWA Local 31026

Cash Cow Contest and [BN] Blitz

9.5.17 – As fall approaches, two major efforts are launching that affect Guild members. One is a new Cash Cow Contest to solicit money-making ideas from non-management News employees. The other is a new [BN] Blitz product being launched by newsroom management, which poses serious concerns for the Guild.

The Cash Cow Contest is a collaborative, employee-empowering effort between the Guild and The News. If you haven’t already received information on this, you will soon. Quite simply, we all recognize that The News cannot cut its way to long-term financial health, and management does not have all the answers to what new, innovative ideas and products can boost the company’s profitability. Without new revenue-generating ideas for products and services, and new ways to grow print and digital subscriptions, the Guild will continue to lose members and face a steeper uphill fight to protect wages and benefits.

We believe many employees have great ideas that could help build the company’s financial strength. The contest is designed to leverage the ideas of hundreds of rank-and-file employees, instead of just a handful from top management, and make sure they come to the attention of the publisher and other top executive team members.

The company is putting enough faith in this collaborative effort to earmark at least $1,000 for a truly great idea that gets the green light for implementation. Guild members who submit ideas that make it past initial committee vetting will also be eligible for a separate cash award from the Guild of up to $50. Moreover, other innovative entries are eligible for a bunch of other prizes from The News.

Please participate! It doesn’t matter if your idea is a few sentences long, or a few pages long. The more ideas we get, the more successful the contest will be, and the stronger we send the message that Guild members are a vital part of this company’s long-term success. The deadline for entries is Sept. 29.

Submit your idea using this link.

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The News has launched a new online Bills product called [BN] Blitz that exploits the Guild’s digital jurisdiction waiver from 2007. This should trouble all Guild members.

The [BN] Blitz product has moved behind a hard paywall. It’s where most Bills content lives. Non-subscribers would pay $2.99 for unlimited access to Bills-related content. In addition, the goal is to post at least 30 new pieces of online Bills content each day.

While the Guild has no opposition to a sports product that could enhance company revenue, especially in the face of looming online competition, we are strongly opposed to the way The News has chosen to structure it. The News is expected to hire more than 10 different online-only freelancers writing about the Buffalo Bills to “supplement” the content being written by our own Bills writers.

This represents the first major test of the digital jurisdiction language that the Guild agreed to 10 years ago (MOA #11). While the Guild has a great deal of exclusive jurisdiction in print, it has no exclusive online jurisdiction, with the exception of a clause that states that The News “shall not establish new positions outside the bargaining unit to perform functions parallel in nature to the work normally and presently performed by bargaining unit members.” Guild leaders have spent a tremendous amount of time researching and discussing the application of this language since July.

The News contends that the work Bills freelancers will do does not impinge on the core work of our regular Bills beat writers and columnists. Managers also state that the digital jurisdiction waiver the Guild agreed to in 2007 permits this type of supplemental work. They point to their ongoing investment in Bills staff writers and other areas where freelancers have regularly contributed online-only work.

However, the Guild knows of no prior instances where freelancers have been asked to extensively cover the exact same organization and related news as our own full-time Guild beat writers. Some online-only Bills “lanes” assigned to stringers, such as fantasy football, are areas the Guild would not reasonably contest. However, other freelance-produced content, such as deep, substantive analysis of player and game stats and data, raise serious alarms.

The News has stated that the type of work being done by freelancers is peripheral – and often template-based – work that has nothing to do with the broader and more important reporting and analysis that our Bills writers perform. The company also believes in hiring freelancers with no job security for a new digital product with uncertain longevity.

The Guild’s position is that a major expansion of the Bills beat should be done by Guild members. Changes in content format, or direction in coverage, are part of the evolution of any beat and should not be used as an excuse to hire freelancers instead of hiring experienced journalists. The only exception would be hiring an outside specialist who brings in unmatchable, technical expertise.

Aside from jurisdiction concerns, the Guild is troubled that The News is paying contractors who, in many instances, are still producing content for other competing media outlets and websites. Unlike Guild members, freelancers have no loyalty to The News and are not bound by the same journalistic standards as our own writers. Labor laws also prevent The News from exercising as much meaningful control over a contractor’s product or work assignments as it can its own employees. Finally, depending on so many outsiders to contribute so much content to a single product every week instead of investing in fewer dependable and skilled in-house journalists invites unnecessary risk.

The Guild has recommended a number of possible solutions to The News, including the hiring of temporary Guild members for the duration of the Bills season. It was the Guild’s hope that both sides could agree on a Band-Aid solution in the short run that would save The News money, lead to a better product, and avoid repeated Guild objections and grievances. Such a compromise would safeguard the new [BN] Blitz product while buying time for both sides to work toward a more permanent solution for such a complex issue. The News has responded negatively.

Given the company’s stance, the Guild will carefully monitor [BN] Blitz. We strongly encourage all of our Guild members to do the same. We need to be vigilant and file grievances wherever warranted.

This project is the first major sign that The News will deliberately limit the role of its own journalists in favor of spending big bucks on freelancers as it expands its online presence.

That position should be of grave concern to all of us.