Unionized workers at media outlets owned by GateHouse Media and Digital First Media (DFM) will mark World Press Freedom Day – May 3 – by sending a message to their employers: “Democracy Depends on Journalism: Invest in Us.”
Reporters and other staff at 29 publications owned by the two companies will “support the fight for quality journalism” and “highlight the damage wrought by draconian cuts” in their newsrooms and other departments.
Activities will include displaying signs at workstations and appeals for public support.
The events will mark the first coordinated display of solidarity by GateHouse and DFM workers and will remind the public that quality journalism matters, #NewsMatters.
Critical Time, Politicized Attacks
“The focus on profits threatens journalism at a critical time of politicized attacks on the news media,” says Bernie Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild, a sector of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
“Reliable information is the foundation of our democracy. Corporate owners have a duty to invest in the essential work done by newspaper workers and not to simply strip-mine newspapers for profits,” he added.
The May 3 activities are part of an ongoing campaign to demand that corporate owners invest in quality jobs and fair contracts after years of layoffs, furloughs, pay freezes and benefit cuts. Contract negotiations are underway or expected to resume soon at both companies, but managers have shown little interest in changing course, union activists say.
Workers at GateHouse and DFM have endured some of the most severe staff reductions in the news business.
“The cutbacks in staff are undoubtedly damaging news coverage and harming the communities the papers serve,” Lunzer said.
Twice the National Average
Alden Global Capital, a secretive New York hedge fund, owns DFM and has slashed staffing levels by more than twice the national average during the past five years, while pocketing millions by selling off the company’s real estate assets.
GateHouse owns and/or manages 564 community print publications, including more than 130 daily newspapers, under the umbrella of the New Media Investment Group.
Under New Media’s business model, the company buys newspapers, strips them down to maximize cash flow, and uses the money to pay dividends, grant bonuses to corporate officers, and fund more acquisitions.
As the company gets bigger, New Media’s parent company collects larger management fees – roughly $54 million in the previous two years alone.
The NewsGuild-CWA represents workers at 12 DFM newspapers, including the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and suburban publications in the Bay Area, Philadelphia, and Detroit. In mid-April, DFM announced that it would lay off more than 20 percent of the Guild-represented newsroom staff at the East Bay Times, just one week after the paper was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the deadly “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire in December.
The union represents 580 workers at 17 GateHouse newspapers, including the Providence (RI) Journal, Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette, Erie (PA) Times-News, Peoria (IL) Journal Star, Springfield (IL) State Journal-Register, Rockford (IL) Register Star, Lakeland (FL) Ledger, and the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune. The staff of the Herald-Tribune, a newly organized Guild unit, shared the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting with the Tampa Bay Times for their five-part series “Insane. Invisible. In Danger.” That collaborative project detailed horrific conditions in Florida’s mental hospitals.
NewsGuild members are reaching out to allies, including journalists working for other employers – both union and non-union – as well as community advocates concerned about the corporate gutting of newsrooms across the United States.
For more on the campaign by workers at Digital First Media and GateHouse Media, visit dfmworkers.org.