By: Debra Gersh
Money-losing agency sheds staff as it advertises for stringer; Charney plans new wire
WHILE UNITED PRESS International advertised for stringer, a once-potential owner advertised for former Unipressers.
Gearing up for the Aug. 6 enactment of voluntary employees buyouts and early retirement offers, UPI placed help-wanted ads in newspapers in New York, San Francisco and Boston seeking stringers for its new regional setup.
Meanwhile, Leon H. Charney, a Manhattan attorney who was outbid in bankruptcy court for the wire service, bought a New York Times ad hoping to lure former UPI reporters, editors and photographers to a new “”international news service “” he may establish.
UPI, which was losing as much as $1 million a month, offered the buyouts to approximately 200 employees represented by the Wire Service Guild.
According to the WSG, the buyouts offer staffers one week’s pay for each year of service, two weeks per year after 25 years.
Unipressers in various bureaus, however, said they were told that if they refuse the package they will be laid off anyway. Some attribute the threat to the rush of acceptances close to the cutoff date.
More than 70 staffers accepted buyouts or early retirement packages, according to John R. Hayes, UPI vice president.
Others indicated the reductions have gutted some bureaus, leaving one or no veteran Unipressers in place in a handful of major cities.
The help-wanted ads for free-lancers have drawn numerous response, but many of those reportedly are from journalists with very little experience or people outside the profession completely.
If stringers do the same jobs as the full-time unionized worker they replace, it would violate the terms of the union’s expired contract.
Unipressers have been working without a contract since the wire service was acquired from bankruptcy by Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) in June 1992. The contract was not among the assets purchased (E&P, july 11, 1992, P. 9).
Although contract talks have continued sporadically, no immediate agreement is in sight. The next session was slated for Aug. 17, more than a month since the last meeting.
According to notes from a meeting with staff in Washington, Jean Abinader, a member of UPI’s executive management committee, outlined five major steps planned: reduce losses, use technology to improve efficiency, eliminate redundancies, cut operations that lose money and create new revenue.
Hayes explained that UPI is restructuring in accordance with an new business plan, based on recommendations of a Booze-Allen Hamilton study, which includes “”creating new revenue by developing new products and new business relationship.””
Although UPI has cut its $1- million-a-month losses, Hayes did not know by how much exactly.
At the staff meeting, AbiNader also reportedly told staffer that UPI’s mission will not include competing with the Associated Press.
Stories will be limited to about 500 words and will emphasize the needs of broadcast clients, particularly radio, who produce some 70% of revenue. A new focus will be on clients in government and industry, not the media.
“In terms of our basic policy, we’re not going head to head, or nose to nose, with our traditional rivals, “” Hayes said.
In addition, AbiNader said more emphasis will be placed on the needs of overseas clients, who are paying the bills, and foreign bureaus will be restructured accordingly.
For example, Latin America, a traditional UPI stronghold, will be restructured, as will bureaus in Hong Kong and the Far East, London, Eastern Europe and North and sub-Sahara Africa.
There also reportedly are plans for an Arabic wire.
“We are looking at everything,”” Hayes said. “”There is going to be a restructuring in the foreign area as well; expansion into new product areas with new alliances, new relationship and concentrations.””
In the United States, UPI has divided the nation into six regions and has appointed regional editors and general managers for offices in New York City, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
According to sources, AbiNader told UPI employees that although the United States is still a hot topic for news around the world, clients overseas are not interested in reports from Lansing, Mich., Topeka, Kan., and Harrisburg, Pa.
The domestic and international desks in Washington have been combined and will file copy to all UPI clients, domestic and foreign.
UPI also recently announced it reacquired from a former sister company the computer system it uses for collection, preparation and distribution of news reports. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
While UPI seems intent to move away from competition with the AP, former bidder Charney says plans call for his International News Service to be “”competitive to the wire services today.””
“Although I think AP is a very good service… probably we could become the number two wire service agency,”” he said. “”I think there is a need to have sort of an Avis-to-Hertz service, in terms of wire services, and there needs to be some competition. “”
With no other investors that himself, Charney said he could come up with the cash necessary.
When UPI was on the block in June 1992, Charney was outbid by MBC, which acquired assets of the wire service for $3.95 million (E&P, June 27, 1992, P. 9).
Creditors apparently favored the MBC bid because it offered