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The Gannett News Strike Continues
With trust in the media at an all-time low, Gannett, the country’s most influential newspaper chain, now has to contend with a large number of its staff walking out of various offices.
The phrase “journalism is in crisis” might well be among the more bipartisan phrases one could utter in our increasingly divisive social landscape. Granted, each person asked would likely have different reasons than the next person, but the litany of assaults on journalism would have been, as it were, from the outside.
These assaults include, depending on who you ask, the injection of the ideological toxin which has seemingly infected the system of journalism. In other words, speaking truth to power takes a backseat to virtual signaling and ideological posturing. One could perhaps think of their favorite example of this.
But even within the once-vaunted and revered institution, a fraction exists that is burgeoning on as much of an institutional implosion as it is an explosion. Such is the saga of the Gannett news strike.
It was last month that saw hundreds of journalists trudging stridently out of their offices. This happened at over two dozen newspapers owned by the company Gannett.
Gannett, which owns numerous newspapers including USA Today, has been accused of providing bad working conditions for its employees.
NPR reported, “The newspapers, in seven states, include The Arizona Republic, The Austin American Statesman, The Florida Times-Union, The Asbury Park Press and others. The journalists and representatives at their union, the NewsGuild, accuse Gannett of undercompensating them for years. And, they note, they are now being asked to do more than ever.”
NPR then went on to report that, “According to Jon Schleuss, the president of the NewsGuild, corporate executives have eliminated 54% of the combined workforce of Gannett Co. since it merged with GateHouse Media four years ago to make a newspaper behemoth. Financing for the merger loaded up the new Gannett Co. with debt that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts.”
This walkout represents the largest collective action against Gannett to date.
The NewsGuild themselves reported that “The Gannett publications participating will come from more than half a dozen states, including California, Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. The NewsGuild-CWA represents more than 50 Gannett bargaining units, covering more than 1,000 employees. Striking workers are now calling on shareholders to withhold their vote on Gannett Co., Inc. [including] Board Chairman, and CEO Mike Reed at the June 5 meeting. Under Reed’s stewardship of the company following the merger of GateHouse Media and Gannett Media in November 2019, newsrooms have been hollowed out, local news coverage has dwindled, and Gannett share prices have fallen nearly 70% - far more than peers in the industry like the New York Times and Lee Enterprises.”
The Guild elaborated on this by reporting:
“Gannett Chairman and CEO Mike Reed has increasingly come under fire for decimating local news coverage around the country and shrinking pay and benefits for journalists, forcing many to seek employment elsewhere. The nation's largest newspaper chain, Gannett owns more than 200 daily newspapers across the country, down from the 261 it owned at the time of its merger with GateHouse in 2019. In a sample of ten Gannett publications (eight of which will be involved in next week’s work stoppage), the NewsGuild found that local news stories had declined by 59 - 95% over the past decade. During Reed’s tenure, the company’s finances have been grossly mismanaged in the service of massive self-incurred debt and Gannett has cut nearly 20% of its journalism jobs in the last year, instituted unpaid furloughs and a hiring slowdown, and suspended company contributions to employee 401(k) plans.”
It was at this meeting that Schleuss said the union proposed lowering Gannett's median CEO-to-employee ratio from 66:1 to 20:1. But Schleuss said the meeting lasted just eight minutes and Reed didn't address any questions.
Mr. Schless said, in a series of tweets, that it was a complete joke.
Unfortunately, Mr. Schleuss did not respond to WrongSpeak’s requests for an interview. It was our most earnest hope to give an accounting of where the strike stood as Mr. Schleuss saw it, but that is sadly not possible. But, it should be noted that The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh tweeted, which was summarily re-tweeted by now former union President Schleuss, that the union was “...thrilled to report that @CWAUnion can now send $300K to workers striking 6+ months — like us & our @PittsburghPG siblings @CWADistrict213. Striking is brave and difficult, and financial support is crucial to staying out and winning now and in the future.”
The future does, in many ways, look bleak for the legacy media players. ABC News reported, “According to NewsGuild, Gannett's workforce has shrunk 47% in the last three years due to layoffs and attrition. At some newspapers, the union said the headcount has fallen by as much as 90%.” ABC News added, “The Arizona Republic, for example, has gone from 140 newsroom employees in 2018 to 89 this year, the NewsGuild said. The Austin American-Statesman's newsroom shrunk during that period from 110 employees in 2018 to 41 this year.”
The strike does seem to be ongoing with some victories along the path already, the aforementioned Pittsburgh incident perhaps among the more salient. One update of note is that just this past Tuesday, it was tweeted out that Claude Cummings Jr just won the election, and became the first black President of the CWA. So, one will wonder what implications this will have for the strike.
They could be far-reaching, indeed, and it could well be that this story has a happy ending with all parties appeased and the Gannett soldering on. However, as a pessimist might comment, it could also be not quite the beginning, but certainly part of the end of mainstream legacy media.