Statesman reporters need to unionize

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LA Times employees celebrate unionization. Credit: Capital and Main.

Over 400 newspapers, including the Austin American-Statesman, wrote editorials today speaking out against President Trump’s attempts to undermine the press.

I admire the statement of solidarity, but there is an even greater threat to journalism than Donald Trump’s disdain for facts. The Statesman knows it better than anyone:

Ahora Sí, the American-Statesman’s weekly Spanish-language newspaper, will cease publication Oct. 11, the company said Thursday.

The announcement came at the same time the Statesman announced all its 200-plus employees would be eligible to take a voluntary severance package.

The Statesman suffered cutbacks under its previous ownership, but there’s a good chance that things are going to get much, much worse now that they’ve been taken over by GateHouse Media, whose MO when it buys papers is cuts, cuts, cuts.

A few months ago I said that Statesman reporters need to consider unionizing. I pointed out that the best outlets in the country –– the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press –– have been unionized for decades and that there has been a recent unionization wave that has hit other legacy publications and new media outlets, such as the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the New Yorker, Salon, Vice and Gawker Media.

What I didn’t realize is that I had examples to give Statesman reporters that would hit even closer to home: the 15 GateHouse media outlets that are unionized. A number of them unionized only after getting acquired by GateHouse in response to the staff cuts

In fact, five GateHouse-owned newsrooms have unionized in recent years to fight back against the cuts. Two of them were in union-friendly Illinois: The Pekin Daily Times and The State Journal-Register of Springfield. But three were in union-hostile Florida: The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), the Herald-Tribune (Sarasota) and The Ledger (Lakeland).

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Members of newly-formed union at the Florida Times-Union.

Here was the statement put out by the Florida Times-Union union shortly before they won the vote to represent their coworkers.

Our union is under no illusion that revenues associated with the news business will magically improve, and that is precisely why we have decided to unite our voices. We fear that GateHouse’s short-term strategies will lead to more and more cuts in the future. As of today, there are fewer than 40 full-time employees working across the Times-Union newsroom in metro, opinion, life, sports, photo and the copy desk – a third of the staff we had just five years ago. Once-filled desks now sit empty.

There will be tough times ahead. A union won’t necessarily stop that. But a strong contract will help to protect the work of the men and women who report, edit, photograph and put together the stories of the newspaper. In this way, a strong contract will help to preserve good jobs and impactful journalism in Jacksonville.

To my Statesman brothers and sisters, does that sound familiar? If so, get in touch with the NewsGuild. Just make sure to use a private email.

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