VTDigger, Vermont’s biggest newsroom, joins union surge

Journalists at the online nonprofit VTDigger – the state’s biggest newsroom – joined the surge in news industry union organizing on Monday to help secure the future of local reporting.

Nearly 90 percent of the newsroom staff asked VTDigger’s executive director and board of trustees to voluntarily recognize the VTDigger NewsGuild, “so management and staff can work toward a common goal: producing vital journalism for readers from Bennington to Barton.” The group will join NewsGuild-CWA Local 31167.

“Vermonters are depending on our work, and the work of other local journalists, for up-to-date information and rigorous reporting as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads,” they said in a press statement. “VTDigger’s newsroom has stepped up to meet that demand, working overtime to expand coverage.

“The coronavirus epidemic has highlighted the importance of our mission, but it has also heightened the fragility of our industry and economy. We are seeing furloughs and layoffs hit workers across the country, and the media is no exception — VTDigger has laid off three employees so far.”

The layoffs made union organizing even more urgent.

“It has never been more important for rank-and-file newsroom employees to have a voice in the workplace,” said education reporter Lola Duffort. “These are extraordinarily difficult times, and we want to partner with VTDigger’s board and management as we navigate our way out of this crisis.”

The organization’s rapid growth has come at the cost of employee burnout and high turnover, union organizers said. “Six months ago, we came together with a vision for a more sustainable newsroom, one with the structure, support, and policies needed to ensure its future and the fair treatment of its employees.

“The editorial staff who makes up the VTDigger Guild are proud of where we work. We are grateful for the dedication and vision of our editors, founder, and board members,” said data reporter Erin Petenko. “Together with our readers and donors, we have helped to make the organization a leader in nonprofit news and Vermont journalism.”

With a union, we can advocate for ourselves in ways that will strengthen VTDigger — and the communities we serve — long term.

“The support of a union will allow reporters to do their best work,” said health care reporter Katie Jickling. “Ultimately, I believe it will yield higher quality journalism, which benefits all of us.”