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Buffalo News employees go on byline strike against pension freeze, outsourcing design work

Several dozen people holding signs reading "Protect local journalism, support the Buffalo Newspaper Guild," stand outside The Buffalo News office, a concrete building with the words "The Buffalo News" in blue lettering.
Tom Dinki
/
WBFO News
Members of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild demonstrate outside The Buffalo News July 15, 2021, in protest of proposals from Lee Enterprises.

You might have noticed something missing from your copy of The Buffalo News Friday: the names of the reporters and photographers who make the paper possible.

The Buffalo Newspaper Guild is going on an indefinite byline strike, withholding their names from their stories and photos, in protest of changes proposed by the News’ ownership and management.

The Guild, which represents approximately 150 News employees, is currently negotiating its first contract with Lee Enterprises, an Iowa-based media company that purchased the News from longtime owner Warren Buffet last year.

“We were hopeful that this Iowa-based media chain would put its best foot forward for Western New York,” said News reporter and Guild President Sandra Tan. “Instead, they've just chosen to step on us.”

Buffalo News Guild pic 10.jpg
Tom Dinki
Sandra Tan, a Buffalo News reporter and president of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild, speaks at a demonstration July 15, 2021 outside the News office.

Tan and several dozen other Guild members made the announcement Thursday during a news conference and demonstration outside the News' office building on Washington Street in downtown Buffalo.

They said Lee, as part of contract negotiations, is seeking to weaken job security protections, freeze the pension fund, and outsource copy editing and page design jobs out of state.

This could mean fewer reporters, according to the Guild, and no award-winning designs and special commemorative editions, like the News did when the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game in Buffalo in June.

“Lee's proposals don't just hurt those of us who are here today. They hurt the tens of thousands of people who rely on our paper every day to stay informed, safe in the knowledge that someone is looking out for them,” Tan said.

Columnist Sean Kirst has seen firsthand what cuts do to a newspaper. He was at The Post-Standard in 2012 when the Syracuse newspaper’s ownership laid off 115 employees.

“Home delivery went to three days. Design was shipped off to a faraway place. The community and the newspaper took that hit as one,” he said.

Sean Kirst
Tom Dinki
Buffalo News columnist Sean Kirst speaks at a demonstration July 15, 2021 outside the News' office.

Lee Enterprises did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday. The News currently has job listings for six reporter positions and one editor position.

However, Tan said those incoming hires “cannot compare with the number of Guild members [Lee] wants the right to get rid of.”

In addition to the indefinite byline strike, the Guild has purchased a digital billboard down the street from the News offices that reads, “The Buffalo News’ out-of-town owner is bad news for readers and workers.” It’s also started a petition that’s gained more than 1,000 signatures in three days.

“We are united in our voice, to this company and this community, that we’re going to do what’s right,” Tan said, “and if it takes removing our byline from the print paper so that people don't see our names, even though we take our names as a personal source of pride for everything we produce, then that’s what we're going to do.”

Asked how attacking ownership will help the negotiations, Tan said she views the Guild’s efforts as an “appeal, not an attack.” She noted the Guild has been willing to negotiate cutbacks in the past, like when 18 members of newsroom departed through either layoffs or buy-outs in 2018.

Buffalo Newspaper Guild demonstrates
Tom Dinki
Members of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild demonstrate outside The Buffalo News July 15, 2021 in protest of changes proposed by owner Lee Enterprises.

“So, if the question is, ‘Shouldn't we expect the company to want to save money and cut costs and be more efficient?’ Sure we do. We're willing to sit down and talk cooperatively about ways we can do that,” Tan said. “But are we going to be sheep and just let the company tell us that they don't want to hear from us? That we have no role or place in how our members are shown the door? No, we're never going to agree with that. I hope we won't. I really hope that it will not get to that point. We stand for something that matters, and we think the community would agree with us.”

The Guild’s current contract expires at the end of the month.

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