Shredding Local News, Our Essential Safety Net

News

Friday, over 200 journalists with the NewsGuild CWA put their careers at risk by walking off their jobs as local reporters at Gannett owned newspapers at the Asbury Park Press and The Record as well as a dozen other news rooms around the country because the company refuses to bargain with their union in good faith. 

Their high stakes collective action came after Gannett’s C-Suite decision to lay off 400 workers and eliminate another 400 vacant jobs while imposing furloughs and cuts to employees 401K plans.

In addition to journalists at the Asbury Park Press and The Record (Bergen/Passaic), reporters went on a one day strike at New Jersey’s Courier News, Home News Tribune, Daily Record (Morris) and the New Jersey Herald in Sussex County joined a half dozen New York local papers including the Journal News, the Times Herald Record and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

While this may get lost in the coverage of our mid-term electoral convulsions, we need to hail their actions as selfless and patriotic because these members of the NewsGuild CWA are fighting to save authenticated local news which is under assault as never before and the Gannett chain they work for is on the verge of imploding.

HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW?

As the national horse race coverage of the mid-terms is being used to shape a right wing ascension narrative, it’s more important than ever to critically ask how do we know what we know as voters and as a nation.  

Huge corporate news outlets with global and national platforms can’t replace local news. Without a diverse news ecology, we give way too much power to the giants like veteran journalist Bob Woodward. The Washington Post journalist, who was told by President Trump on February 7 of 2020  just how deadly COVID would be. Woodward waited months until September of 2020 to break the news about Trump’s unconscionable deceit as part of the rollout of his “new” book.

No local reporter I know would have sat on that. When reporters get bigger than the news they’ve become something else.

Even the New York Times is abusing its power by putting its thumb on the scale with Friday’s page one above the fold “Fears Over Crime Weigh on Voters, Benefiting Republican Candidates”. This contorted agenda setting story had three reporters on it with three others assisting to pack this freight train with crime wave atmospherics and a flattering picture of Kari Lake, Trump’s surrogate Republican candidate for Governor.

Incredibly, the ‘paper of record’ buried the news lede when it disclosed on the jump page A13, a dozen paragraphs in, that “because of a change in the way the FBI is compiling and national crime statistics, more than a third of the nation’s law enforcement agencies, including some of the biggest U.S. cities, did not submit data to the F.B.I.’s statistics collection program for 2021.”

That was the news nugget they buried under a string of anecdotes from a handful of crime victims that were used to represent the mood of an entire nation. 

LAW AND VIDEOTAPED DISORDER

Not one word in this 40 paragraph story about how the Jan. 6 Insurrection and the wholesale assault on the U.S. Capitol Police might have contributed to this ‘national sense’ of lawlessness being afoot on the land. Similarly, not one expert quoted on the convergence of decades of deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill, a massive homelessness and housing crisis being made all the worse by a mass death event.

The stakes in the fight over how we inform ourselves couldn’t be higher and its the NewsGuildCWA on the frontlines.

Whether it by Elon Musk fashioning twitter in his own image, or  conservative cable TV billionaire John Malone using his stake in CNN to move it to the right, thanks to corporate consolidation, just a handful of oligarchs can set our news agenda. And our only shot at accountability, especially when they take these platforms private, is mass unionization. 

When local news disappears and there are no longer sentient beings out and about in our communities gathering news we lose our situational awareness and our ability to discern what threats actually exist to ourselves or our families. We become vulnerable to the media moguls who have their own self-serving agendas and are accountable to no one.

These days so much of the information we consume is passed off as “news” is unauthenticated social media atmospherics aggregated and distributed based on our existing prejudices to hate our neighbor if they are from an opposing political party, all to just sell us something not inform us.

While there’s been much valid criticism of the Center for Disease Control’s incoherent messaging throughout the COVID pandemic, there’s been insufficient attention about how the supplanting of journalism by much cheaper aggregated social media content helped to fracture the national response to a once in a century mass death event. 

LOCAL REPORTING BEAT POLIO

Contrast and compare how our nation responded cohesively to the challenge that was polio in the 1950s when we had an intact local news infrastructure and thousands of journalists tracking down the local angle of our national public health crisis of the day.

The disappearance of local news reporting transcends political ideology. It goes right to the core of the civil defense imperative that has to be at the heart of any viable nation. When local news dies because there are no longer sentient beings out in our communities gathering news we lose our situational awareness and our ability to discern what threats actually exist to ourselves or our families.  

To add insult to our collective misery, corporate media consolidation is subsidized by our tax policy that taxes our labor at a much higher rate than investment capital. Locally owned TV and radio stations, as well as local newspapers, were bought up by conglomerates from nowhere in particular.

This was the ‘synergy’ that spawned Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain owning over 200 newspapers with almost one in every state. It owns USA Today as well as titles in the United Kingdom. 

Historically, Gannett’s business strategy exemplified everything wrong with our Wall Street centric capitalism which uses borrowed money to buy things of value, dismantle them, suck the marrow out of the bones, and pocket the proceeds. Under the buzz phrase of ‘unlocking value’, the debt bloated behemoth guts local newsrooms, aggregates news content and sold off the physical addresses where the newspapers were published. 

But it was not just newspapers and broadcast outlets. This was pretty much the business model across industries encouraged by both political parties for decades as Congress embraced global free trade and we went about dismantling the American industrial base and shipped it to more profitable nations that lacked labor or environmental regulations.

NEWSGUILD FIGHT MUST BE ALL OUR BATTLE

And so, the NewsGuild CWA is standing up to Gannett for every American at an obscene tipping point where the Economic Policy Institute reports corporate CEO pay has skyrocketed 1,460 percent since 1978 with CEO pay almost 400 times that of the typical worker at the company last year.  

Gannett’s CEO was no exception, raking in almost $8 million, or 160 times the median salary of a Gannett employee.

This summer, Gannett reported it lost $54 million after it made a bad bet on a partnership with a European internet gambling sports book operator.  Gannett’s CEO Mike Reed  blamed a 31 percent spike in newsprint costs combined with declines in print circulation as well as advertising revenues. But he didn’t have enough objectivity to point out that the debt reliant business strategy was the quicksand he was flailing about in.

Earlier in the year, Gannett had signaled it was truly out of ideas when it announced it would pursue a $100 million stock buyback even as it squandered more money to pay its anti-union lawyers that would double down on the company’s union busting tactics. 

“Our goal is to preserve journalism and serve our communities across the country,” Gannett’s Chief Communications Officer Lark-Marie Anton wrote The Hill in a statement in response to the one day strike. “Despite the anticipated work stoppage in some of our markets, we will not cease delivering trusted news to our loyal readers. In addition, we continue to bargain in good faith to finalize contracts that provide equitable wages and benefits for our valued employees.”

C-SUITE NOSE DIVE TO MORE STRESSED ASSET SALES

Oddly, one implication of Gannett’s self-destructive greed centric strategy has been its selling off some of its newspapers.

“The earnings report issued by Gannett yesterday once again shows that Mike Reed’s solutions to the problems facing the company revolve around punishing employees: cutting jobs and cutting compensation is not the pathway to sustainable journalism,” said Tony Daley, a CWA economist, in a statement supporting the one day strike. “The announcement of a reduction of 400 jobs and another 400 vacancies that will not be filled along with furloughs and retirement cuts show a monumental lack of imagination…We need leadership that worries less about stock prices and their salaries than about where this company will be in 5, 10, or 20 years.”

“Gannett is actively sabotaging our democracy by attacking its own journalists,” said Jon Schleuss, president, of the NewsGuild-CWA in a statement. “The company has the money to invest in journalists and it should start doing that immediately instead of fighting them.” 

“Gannett executives have been robbing journalists and the communities they serve by decimating newsrooms and underpaying workers while lavishing company executives  with extravagant pay, outrageous bonuses and artificially inflating the value of stocks with buyback schemes,” said Susan DeCarava, president of the NewsGuild of New York in a statement. “We have had enough.”

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4 responses to “Shredding Local News, Our Essential Safety Net”

  1. This is an important story but it’s been ignored except by InsiderNJ, as far as I can tell. But it’s central to what’s happening in our country. I wish I had an answer.

  2. So glad you’re telling this powerful narrative!
    A key plank in building neo-fascism is gutting local media and entrusting corporate media to watch and assist in the Corporate-MAGA takeover.

  3. So delightful to watch you so called “journalists” eat your young and self distruct. Y’all have been the mouthpiece for the Democratic Party for roughly 2 decades now. And you clueless “journalistic” wonders are still ensconced in your cocoons of partisanship and can’t see the forest for the trees as you wonder why your industry is dying an ever faster death. Your chosen “profession” meanwhile has sunk beneath the Legal community on the respect meter.
    As with any addiction, you have to submit to self examination to realize you have a problem, or nothing will save you from yourself. Way past time to admit your political bias and perhaps save your careers. But then again I’m just an outside observer who used to read the Asbury Park Press daily, then Sunday, then NO day when I finally couldn’t take the lefty bias/agenda content anymore. I’m thinkin I’m not the only one based on subscriber data over the past two decades.

  4. Bob, you tell the story very well about how journalists covering local news are fulfilling a function that larger news portals are unable – and perhaps also unwilling – to fill. Thanks for the thoughts and illumination.

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