Journalists at the Southern California News Group announced Wednesday plans to unionize at 11 daily newspapers and more than a dozen weekly publications across four counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Together, the papers attract an online audience of 17.6 million monthly unique visitors, according to the company, and 451,000 Sunday print subscribers.
The SCNG is owned by Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group, the New York-based hedge fund notorious for slashing newsroom budgets to the bone. Last week, Alden Global announced a $630 million deal to buy Tribune Publishing newspapers, even as it refuses to invest in its own newsrooms.
“Our journalists have labored for years under increasingly difficult conditions. We intend to reverse that trend,” members of SCNG Guild said in a statement announcing their plans. Most of the newsrooms have endured pay cuts and/or layoffs, with some employees going a decade or more without raises.
Nearly three-fourths of the newspapers’ non-management editorial employees — including reporters, photographers, designers, copy editors and online editors — have signed authorization cards petitioning the National Labor Relations Board for a union election.
“Hollowing out our newsrooms with layoffs and attrition does not improve our ability to cover the news,” said reporter Josh Cain, as SCNG Guild organizing committee member. “Buying up every local paper in Southern California, cutting its staff to the bone and covering the same number of communities with even fewer resources does not help our readers. We want to save local news, and organizing will help us do that.”
Increasing diversity in coverage and among the staff is a major goal of the union effort. Jonah Valdez, crime and safety reporter, said, “Amid a summer of protests for racial justice, a small group of staffers of color led an effort to diversify SCNG staff and coverage to better reflect the diversity of the communities we cover. Management is listening, but much work is left. As a union, we can more effectively continue our collective fight for equity.”
Government watchdog reporter Teri Sforza said, “What Alden has done to my newspaper breaks my heart. We have only a few dozen reporters now — a fraction of what we had when Alden acquired us in 2016. It was always hard to do all that needs to be done, and now it feels impossible. Mind you, the editors in our organization are great journalists committed to producing the best product we possibly can. The owners of our organization appear not to care, so long as the money is rolling in.”
Ryan Hagen, local government reporter, said, “Our communities depend on good journalism, and good journalism depends on good journalists. Every year we have less of both, but we can fix that together. Unionized, we can ensure that our co-workers keep their jobs, our stories get the time they deserve, and our communities get the journalism they deserve. I support a union because a union supports good journalism.”
Noting that many journalists working in Alden newsrooms across the country have already organized, organizers said, “We at SCNG want to be recognized along with them.” They asked Media News Group and Alden to recognize the union and work with them to protect local journalism.
The news group includes the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Riverside Press-Enterprise, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Bernardino Sun, Pasadena Star-News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News and the Redlands Daily Facts.
Nearly three-fourths of the newspapers’ non-management editorial employees — including reporters, photographers, designers, copy editors and online editors — have signed authorization cards that will be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board in a petition for a union election.
The SCNG Guild is part of surge in unionizing organizing about journalists across the U.S. and Canada. The group will be a unit of the Media Guild of the West, a local of The NewsGuild-CWA, which represents hundreds of journalists at the Los Angeles Times, the Arizona Republic and other news outlets.