Roanoke Times journalists mark Lee Enterprises takeover of BH Media with an announcement: We’re forming a union!
March 17, 2020 – Journalists at The Roanoke Times marked Lee Enterprises’ takeover of Warren Buffett’s BH Media Group on Monday with an announcement on Tuesday: They’re forming the Timesland News Guild, becoming the first to organize since the purchase was announced in January.
More than 75 percent of Roanoke Times newsroom employees — reporters, photographers, graphic artists, copy and online editors, designers and support staff — signed cards indicating support for the union organizing effort.
Although the sale closed Monday, but Lee has been managing Warren Buffett’s BH publications since July 2018. When Lee took over as manager, BH had already reduced sports and crime coverage, and eliminated or reduced beats dedicated to technology, arts and food. As manager, Lee shrunk the size of the Roanoke Times print edition and converted full-time copy-editing jobs to part-time. Circulation has suffered, subscriptions have been canceled and revenue has declined.
The move to unionize is part of an industry-wide trend. Dozens of newsrooms across the country have unionized in the past few years — from big national publications like the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, to Virginia metro dailies, such as the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk and the Daily Press in Newport News. Other NewsGuild unionized publications in BH/Lee chain are the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, the Omaha World-Herald and the Buffalo News.
On Tuesday, organizers of the Timesland News Guild submitted a letter to management asking Lee to voluntarily recognize the union and begin bargaining for a contract. If Lee refuses, organizers will petition for a vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.
“We’re taking this step to give our newsrooms a seat at the table with our new owners,” said Tonia Moxley, a reporter at The Roanoke Times since 2000.
“We all know we’re in a struggling industry,” said Laurence Hammack, a reporter at The Roanoke Times since 1985. “But newspapers are vital to our communities, and this is perhaps our last chance to preserve that role.”
In her six years at The Roanoke Times, state politics reporter Amy Friedenberger has seen coworkers struggling to do more with less.
“I’ve watched talented folks take new jobs in fear of how corporate decisions will steer their futures. Some have left journalism completely, void of hope for stability in this industry,” Friedenberger said. “Forming a union means having a say, and that’s a small step in ensuring a better future.”
The Timesland News Guild derives its name from a term coined by The Roanoke Times sports department in the 1950s to describe the areas across Southwest Virginia that depends on their coverage.
Union organizers seek to work with local management to strengthen The Roanoke Times, they said in a press statement. “A union can hold company leaders accountable to the high journalistic standards readers deserve, advocate for the restoration of jobs and beats that serve the community, and negotiate for fair pay and employment practices,” they wrote.