Journalists of Hilton Head Island Packet, Beaufort Gazette hope to become South Carolina’s first union newspaper

Sept. 9, 2020 – The journalists at The Hilton Head Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette took a major step toward becoming South Carolina’s first active newspaper union on Wednesday, announcing they are forming the Packet/Gazette Guild.

More than 80 percent of eligible reporters, photographers and producers at the newspapers, both owned by McClatchy, have signed cards authorizing union representation by the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, Local 32035 of the NewsGuild-CWA. The employees have requested voluntary recognition from management, citing overwhelming support among staff.

“I’m proud of the work that I do at the Packet, and I’m equally proud of the efforts my colleagues and I are making to improve our workplace,” said Rachel Jones, an education reporter and a member of the union organizing committee. “Creating these protections for our newsroom will ultimately lead to better coverage of Beaufort County, and it’s an honor to lead the way in organizing for the Carolinas.”

The journalists announced their unionization effort as McClatchy has finalized its sale to Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund. The sale came six months after McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following more than a decade of layoffs and losses.

Stephen Fastenau, a senior reporter covering Beaufort and an organizing committee member, said, “I have seen a lot of smart journalists come and go during my 10 years in the Lowcountry, and I hope this effort builds an environment that encourages more of them to stay and become part of the communities they work so hard to cover.”

The hedge fund ownership model has cut newsroom and production jobs across the country. The Packet/Gazette Guild journalists want a say in decisions about their workplace, and believe that unionizing will ensure the highest quality journalism for decades to come.

The Island Packet celebrated 50 years of service to Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County this summer and won 40 S.C. Press Association awards, including for a series that followed a Beaufort County cold case as it was solved, reporting that held an Okatie landfill owner to account when a trash pile became toxic and commentary from David Lauderdale that helped preserve the Lowcountry’s classic color.

Although they were once separate entities, the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette now function as a single newspaper. The journalists of the newspapers said they regret the Beaufort Gazette’s diminished presence as a result of cost-cutting and the closure of offices in Beaufort. The papers also lost a national award-winning sports department that was phased out as corporate directives prioritized clicks over local sports coverage.

Union members intend to fight for:

  • Pay equity and benefits to recruit and retain talented reporters and editors
  • A newsroom with the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the community it serves
  • Protection against continued cuts and down-sizing

They asked the community to stand with them to protect local news.

Follow the group on Twitter @PacketGuild or visit their website, PacketGuild.org.

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