At their core our nation’s tragically fractured response to COVID and the fatal insurrection on January 6 are both killer weeds sprung from the same root stock– mass ignorance which has gotten traction as authenticated local news died and was replaced by unverified social media posts.
For decades now, America’s local newspapers, radio and TV stations have been gobbled up by a handful of giant corporations whose only allegiance is to their overpaid corporate officers and stockholders from nowhere in particular.
But today we got word that by a vote of 59 to 4 local community-based journalists that work for Gannett’s North Jersey newspapers [the Record, the Herald News and the Daily Record] have voted to form a union under the NewsGuild -CWA banner.
Gannett is a massive corporation that owns one in five of America’s newspapers, and has reputation of gutting the staffs of the local newspapers it absorbs. This drill of gutting community newspapers has become a pro forma squeeze play by Wall Street and hedge fund pirates that are from nowhere in particular and put profits over people.
In their mission statement that kicked off their successful drive the journalists pressing for a union wrote that since 2016, they had seen “more than half of our colleagues lose their jobs, with cuts of over 250 people at The Record, the Daily Record and the NJ Herald.”
The pro-union journalists described how Gannett “unceremoniously laid off include a reporter nearly nine months pregnant and a 30-year-veteran reporter who was forced to take a buyout after missing a single email to opt out of the process.”
“By forming a union, we are taking a stand for respect and dignity, and greater protections against unjust terminations and reductions in force,” the union mission statement said. “We are uniting with NewsGuild members around the country in a movement to save local news and ensure a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our paper and the news coverage we provide. There is no journalism without journalists.”
Thanks to a bi-partisan greed for campaign cash and beltway revolving dooritis, Congress and presidents of both parties have blocked and tackled for these corporate interests through deregulation and tax policy.
As a result of draconian cost cutting in both print and broadcast news outlets, the Pew Research Center reports that from 2008 to 2019 half of all of the nation’s local newsroom staffs were cut in half.
Where once there were local reporters covering local town halls and doing the shoe leather work of visiting local police stations to check out the blotter each day, now we all too often just have local authorities using Facebook or twitter to get out their story.
Should it be left entirely to 17 year-olds like Darnella Frazier who stood her ground and captured the broad daylight murder of George Floyd to hold local law enforcement accountable?
According to the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina the result of this “extinction level” threat for local newspapers…. more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers have disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities living in vast news deserts.”
As a result, according to CITAP analysis in our country “200 counties do not have a local newspaper, nearly 50% of counties only have one newspaper, usually a weekly, and more than 6% of counties have no dedicated news coverage at all” while “digital startups are focused on population-dense communities rather than the rural areas most often abandoned by local newspapers.”
And there are civic and even civil defense consequences as we saw when thousands of violent protestors armed with unvetted, but profitable conspiracy theories almost upended for the first time in our nation’s history the peaceful transition of power.
“Local news outlets play an important role in informing community members about local government, elections, and other civic events,” CITAP concludes. “They also help to shape community views around common values and beliefs, creating a sense of shared purpose that can be a powerful uniting force within a town or county. Without a source for local news, community members get most of their news from social media, leaving them vulnerable to mis- and disinformation and exacerbating political polarization.
And what fills in that “vacuum left by the disappearance of local news sources” is “information sources that are incomplete” and “may be misleading or deceptive.”
The Gannett vote to unionize comes less than a month after journalists at the New York Daily News voted 55 to 3 to join the NewsGuild of New York.
The news was reported in New York City’s “hometown” newspaper in a story around the size of a birth announcement. But the fledging union got its two cents in. “Our newsroom overwhelmingly voted to form this union after more than a year of organizing,” the new union stated.
Tribune Publishing, like Gannett, a corporate behemoth, owns the Daily News.
In a poignant May 5 op-ed entitled “Please buy this newspaper: A Daily News reporter begs a local owner to rescue the tabloid from Alden Global Capitol” veteran reporter Larry McShane recounted how Tribune “fired half the newsroom on a single morning in 2018.”
“Tribune now plans to peddle the paper to Alden Global Capital, the notorious hedge fund known for decimating newspapers like the Denver Post before picking the bones for profit,” writes McShane who is cheering for Stewart Bainum, “a Baltimore hotel magnate” to draw “fellow deep pocketed investors” who can beat Alden’s $630 million offer by a May 21 deadline.
Just two weeks before the Daily News took their courageous step, a majority of the 650 New York Times tech workforce voted to also join the NewsGuild which already represents 1,300 employees that makeup the Times editorial workforce and business staff.
The tide is rising.