The Chicago Sun-Times unit of the Chicago Newspaper Guild has been told that Sun-Times Media Group wants to reduce its union wage and benefit package by seven percent. Union participation in the discussion has been requested by management, and meetings are planned soon.
One of the ideas on the table is to shift the layout and copy-editing functions to India. This would displace 25 to 30 jobs, or roughly 20 percent of the editorial workforce.
“My initial reaction is that is not something we are going to go along with and if that forces them to lay people off, we would prefer they do so under the terms of the contract rather than eliminate an entire group of people,” Bob Mazzoni, the Sun-Times’ Guild unit co-chairman, told Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune on Friday. “They obviously have the option ... [to] go ahead and outsource anyway and we would take it to arbitration.”
Rosenthal also noted in his blog that the company, which last year cut $50 million in costs and this year has said it plans to eliminate another $45 million to $50 million to stem losses, last week proposed a seven percent cut in compensation for all union workers at the Sun-Times and its dozens of sister Chicago-area publications and Web sites.
Sending the copy desk to another continent isn't a new idea, it has been suggested at other newspapers as a cost-cutting measure as far back as 2006. Here's is Joe Grimm assessment in 2006 of the topic as he writes for Poynter. Grimm is a visiting journalist at the Michigan State University School of Journalism.
Copy editors and layout editors are a key component to a newsroom. While city editors and reporters often get the glamour and public recognition, it's the copy and layout editors who are the nigthly unsung heroes. With keen eyes and skill, they turn good copy into great copy, often in minutes under a tight deadline. They draw on their expert knowledge of their local communities to catch libelous and embarrassing mistakes written into stories by reporters and city editors; mistakes that no editor in India could ever find. Without them, there is no web site published or morning paper on the doorstep.
When a news organization sends those jobs across the world, there's no telling how poorly their stories will read. What management has to learn is that when the quality of their product goes downhill because of poor editing, so will readership, especially in this highly competitive environment. And we all know what happens to advertising revenues when readership plummets, don't we?