ON THE MEDIA: The media today – A unionization wave across the industry

By Pete Vernon, November 20, 2017, for Columbia Journalism Review

ACROSS THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE, as consolidation and technological advancements drive rapid change, a mainstay of 20th century labor battles is having its moment. Staffers from numerous outlets, both legacy print and digital-only, are unionizing.

At the Los Angeles Times, long a bastion of anti-union sentiment, staffers have engaged in a public-facing unionization drive, challenging its parent company Tronc. For CJR, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer traces the paper’s history with labor, which includes a bombing of the Times office by a pair of brothers hired by unionists. Writing on the current state of play, she contrasts the huge raises that Tronc executives have given themselves, even as they demand cuts across their newsrooms, with the pay cuts taken by New York Times executives over the same period (the NYT newsroom has long been unionized). Mohajer writes that “the successful formation of a union at the Los Angeles Times would have been largely unimaginable in the last century,” but Times national correspondent Matt Pearce tells her, “We think this can be successful. We’re the dominant publication in the most populous, wealthiest state in the country, one that is driving the direction of the country in many ways.”

A wave of unionization has taken place across the digital media landscape in recent years, with journalists at Vice, Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, and other outlets organizing. Last week, staffers at Vox Media—the digital startup that runs eight sites, including Eater, Recode, and Vox.com—announced their intention to do the same.

The dismal financial picture for media outlets is well known. Last week’s news that BuzzFeed and Vice would fall significantly shortof their revenue targets only added to the gloomy prognosis. Facing that uncertain future, it’s no surprise that journalists would opt for the collective bargaining rights and employee protections that unions offer. Management at many of those outlets, however, is pushing back. One week after DNAinfo and Gothamist staffers voted to unionize, the sites’ billionaire owner Joe Ricketts shut down his entire operation. Even at liberal sites, like Slate, resistance from management has been stiff.