The NewsGuild-CWA is calling on members of Congress to improve the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act so that it protects local journalists and strengthens local reporting. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning and now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
“While we applaud the bipartisan effort to address the local news crisis, as it stands now, the JCPA must be improved to support local news jobs rather than subsidizing the corporate giants that have been gutting newsrooms for profit,” said NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss. “Right now the bill gives news companies collective bargaining rights to negotiate money from Google and Facebook — but it does nothing to ensure that money will support retaining and hiring journalists.”
“We’re continuing to work with members of Congress and expect that they will make sure the JCPA supports local journalism and not hedge funds,” he said.
The NewsGuild-CWA is the largest union of journalists and media workers in North America. It represents about 16,000 media workers in the United States, including more than 6,400 who have unionized in the last five years. The Guild is one of the fastest growing unions in the country.
Senator Alex Padilla of California, a member of the committee, citing concerns raised by NewsGuild local leaders representing newsrooms in California and elsewhere, said he continues to have concerns about the bill’s lack of protections for local journalists, which he reiterated Thursday morning.
“I believe that we need stronger language to ensure that the revenue from this bill goes to the workers that make journalism possible and is invested in the high quality local journalism that those workers produce,” he said.
Thanks to the support of Sen. Padilla, the latest version of the bill includes requirements that publishers show how much money they receive from platforms and an estimate of how much new revenue went to employing news journalists. But it lacks accountability for corporate publishers who might exploit the law for bigger profits rather than expanding their newsrooms.
“I don’t think public shaming will ensure unscrupulous owners will support their workers,” Sen. Padilla said. Many of California’s local newspapers, such as the Orange County Register and the San Jose Mercury News, are now owned by Wall Street predators such as Gannett and Alden Global Capital.
“No amount of public shaming has succeeded with firms like Alden Global Capital, which as chairman [Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois] knows well, took over and guitted the newsroom of the renowned Chicago Tribune,” he said.
Sen. Padilla also pointed out Gannett’s stock buyback program and millions in executive pay occurring while the company laid off hundreds of journalists last month.
“As this bill goes to the floor, I implore my colleagues, including those who may not be members of this committee, to take a real close look at the bill and determine for themselves if this bill sufficiently protects workers in this critical industry,” he said.
Local NewsGuild leaders representing thousands of journalists across the U.S. have been critical of the JCPA. Yesterday, NewsGuild of New York President Susan DeCarava, who represents journalists in New Jersey and elsewhere, wrote to Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey pointing directly to concerns at Gannett. The NewsGuild of New York represents workers at Gannett publications in NY and NJ: the Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY) The Observer Dispatch/Times Telegram (Utica, NY), The Journal News (Westchester, NY), The Times Herald Record (Middletown, NY), the Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, NY) The Record, Daily Record and NJ Herald (North Jersey) and the Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune, Courier News (Central Jersey and the Jersey Shore). The local also represents digital producers in Gannett’s Atlantic Digital Optimization Team.
“Gannett has decimated local newsrooms across the country and our region has not been immune to the company’s slash-to-the-bone business mode,” she said. “We ask that you please support improvements to the legislation so that it helps journalists instead of corporate executives and Wall Street investors.”
Earlier in September more than a dozen local NewsGuild presidents and unit leaders sent a joint letter to Senate leaders, pointing out that Gannett is using its publications for self-serving legislative advocacy while at the same time the company’s executives have engaged in massive layoffs of journalists to help pay for their own debt-fueled mergers and stock buybacks.
One NewsGuild-CWA local, Media Guild of the West – which represents newly unionized employees at Gannett newsrooms Arizona Republic, Austin American-Statesman and the Desert Sun (Palm Springs, Calif.) – has almost a dozen Unfair Labor Practice charges pending against Gannett in front of the National Labor Relations Board.
“We welcome policy debate that pursues a sustainable environment for the local journalism that our democracy requires. But you must apply basic scrutiny to our employers while you seek to hold Big Tech accountable,” Guild leaders wrote in the September 7 letter.