Excuse the cynicism, but what better way to seek “good press” than by supporting higher pay for journalists?
New Jersey’s two senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, along with four House members – Josh Gottheimer, Tom Malinowski, Bill Pascrell Jr. and Mikie Sherrill – are doing exactly that. The six members of the state’s congressional delegation, which is an impressive number, are backing Gannett journalists at three North Jersey newspapers who want to unionize. And they’re also condemning Gannett for alleged “union-busting.”
The papers are The Record, the Morristown Daily Record and the New Jersey Herald. Independently-owned not really all that long ago, they’re now all part of the Gannett empire.
All the officials involved are Democrats and supporting unions is what Democrats are wont to do. However, it still seems a bit unusual for two senators and four House members to wade into a union organizing effort.
Unusual, but putting aside any more snide cracks, understandable.
“As you know, independent local journalism is vital to any healthy democracy in order to ensure an informed public and to hold those in power, including ourselves, accountable to the people they serve,” is how the six officials began a recent joint letter to Michael Reed, the CEO of Gannett, in support of the editorial staff.
The union battle will play out, but let’s not get distracted from the larger point. As newspapers constantly cut jobs, the coverage of local news shrinks. This is true all over the state, not just at papers where employees want to unionize.
We live in a universe where one can get national and international news 24 hours a day from any number of cable TV outlets.
But none of them is going to tell you if your mayor just gave a job to his brother-in-law or took a juicy campaign contribution from a local developer. Or how much the school board, which is the main driver of property taxes, is spending. This has been the traditional province of local newspapers, like the ones cited here.
That no longer happens as much as it once did.
If you are a local council or school board member, ask yourself how many local reporters routinely attend your meetings?
There was a time – again, not really all that long ago – when daily newspapers did this religiously. The absence of such daily coverage is great news for those elected officials who enjoy operating in the shadows.
But not for anyone else.
The current situation has nothing to do with today’s reporters, all of whom are stretched far and wide. Moreover, there are just not enough of them.
Forming a union won’t return newspapers and their staffs to the world that existed 25 years ago. And more specifically, as a national company, Gannett probably won’t be moved by a group of New Jersey politicians.
But after the then-president called the press the “enemy of the people,” it’s refreshing to see lawmakers speaking up for journalists.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The writer is a former employee of the Daily Record and The Record.