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April Flash! AFTRA National Vice President Catherine Brown discusses the commonalities among all members & categories

Dear AFTRA member:

If you’ve been keeping up with AFTRA online or reading AFTRA Magazine, you’ve read a lot about how fast, and perhaps fundamentally, the entertainment and news media industries are changing. As a working broadcast journalist who serves on the National Broadcast Steering Committee and the shop steward in the newsroom at WCAU-TV, NBC’s owned-and-operated station in Philadelphia, I can confirm that this change is real, and we broadcast journalists are on the front lines.

From “backpack” or multimedia journalists (MMJs) to centralized content centers and the repurposing of content across multiple platforms, more and more, our newsroom employers are looking to the Internet and new technologies for competitive innovation and ways to ensure “cost effectiveness.”

As business-minded people aware of the challenges presented by our shrinking and fragile global economy, AFTRA members appreciate competition, innovation and cost effectiveness. However, we also believe this must be fairly balanced with a respect for the professionals who gather, write and deliver the news, and for the public who deserve to receive reliable information. When cost effectiveness or innovation jeopardizes the professionalism of those who deliver the news or compromises the quality of the information you receive, it isn’t innovative or cost effective – and we and our society suffer for it.

For the past several years – in fact, dating back to the 1980s with the adoption of “lightweight” hand-held cameras (for those of you who actually held one of those cameras, you know why I put it in quotation marks) – AFTRA members have been closely monitoring the technological changes in our news and broadcast industries. That’s why, through member committees like the National Broadcast Steering Committee, we are working together nationally to educate ourselves about developments at our stations and the networks. We are researching the trends in news broadcasting and looking ahead to what may come our way as technologies and business models shift and evolve. Most important, we are talking with each other about what basic standards and protections working broadcast journalists need in order to faithfully execute our work as the “Fourth Estate” to fulfill your right and the public’s right to receive quality news reporting.

In early May, AFTRA members will sit down across from our employers at ABC/Disney to bargain the first of our four major contracts set to expire in 2010: the ABC Network Staff Newspersons Agreement. We are also in active negotiations at numerous TV and radio stations across the country, including my own. For us – just like for many of you – our concerns at work consist of much more than just digital media (think: overtime, health and retirement benefits, safety, severance, holiday pay, reuse payments, etc.). Broadcast employers are increasingly putting issues of new technology and the employment of “digital journalists” and “content centers” squarely on the table. As we head into the various negotiations set to unfold over the next 18 months, it’s critically important that AFTRA members with “skin in the game” participate in all union meetings, share your experiences through AFTRA and make your voice heard so that we face our collective future together with a common vision and common purpose.

Yes, some among us are still able to secure over-scale rate quotes or exercise significant personal bargaining clout, and we all have individual concerns, needs and aspirations. But as union members, we come together through AFTRA to balance the power equation between labor and management, and help guarantee a better future, not just for all of us, but for the generations of talent following in our footsteps.

As we all know these days, my employer is your employer and vice versa. Many of the major companies that own our local television and radio broadcast stations are also owned, controlled, related to or influenced by the same corporations that produce our scripted and non-scripted TV and digital media programs, or who release our music and sponsor our tours. It’s clear that your concerns are my concerns, and the challenges I face as a local broadcast professional in Philadelphia are not dissimilar from those that confront you in Boston, Nashville, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York and everywhere else. Whether it’s the threats posed by evolving technology, a tight economy, salary compression, reduced quotes, advance payment of residuals, “360” recording deals, downsizing or rampant job loss, a threat to any one of us is a threat to all us. Of course, a battle won by any one of us is – ultimately – a victory for us all.

So, how do we get to that ultimate victory? It’s really quite simple: we do it by standing together to organize more and better work opportunities and negotiate stronger and stronger contracts through an inclusive and progressive national union with a clear and hopeful vision for the future.

That’s me, that’s you, it’s us, it’s AFTRA.

In the next week, the Spring 2010 issue of AFTRA Magazine will arrive in your mailbox and be posted on the AFTRA Web site. Be sure to check it out. In addition to important AFTRA news from around the nation, featured stories on the 2010 AMEE Awards, our work to combat digital theft online and the new AFL-CIO Young Workers Initiative, there is an open letter to AFTRA members from our five top elected national officers that you’ll want to read.

Wednesday, March 31, was Cesar Chavez Day, and as I was writing this letter, I came across a quote from Chavez that every union member should take to heart: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community ... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

Think about it.

In solidarity,

Catherine Brown
AFTRA National Vice President

P.S. The 2010 U.S. Census is here. Have you received your form? It’s a quick and easy process that takes about 10 minutes for households with multiple family members. Be sure to fill it out and return it as soon as possible. The numbers generated from the Census are critical to AFTRA members. The Census results guide federal decisions on important matters for working families including health care, community development, housing, education, transportation, social services, employment and other vital programs. Do your part, fill our your Census 2010 form today!