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Aug. 12, 2019, 1:16 p.m.
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LINK: www.wgaeast.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   August 12, 2019

Funding, distribution, algorithmic pivots, unionizing: The path to profitability in digital media is far from figured out, but unionization seems to be part of the trend.

The Ringer’s editorial, audio, video, and social staff have formed a union with Writers’ Guild of America East, the same group that represents unions at Refinery29, Gimlet Media, Vice, Vox, and G/O Media (formerly Gawker et al).

The staffers at the three-year-old site founded by Bill Simmons, drawing heavily on podcast revenue, are seeking a discussion on issues including compensation, benefits (“the creation of 401ks”), diversity, severance, intellectual property, and more.

Digital media-native companies are having quite a summer with union negotiations. BuzzFeed’s union was finally recognized in July after five months of company talks, and is now in contract negotiations. Vox Media’s sites went dark for a day in early June as employees protested some conditions in contract negotiations but came to an agreement shortly after.

Now, Tribune Publishing is stepping up to the bargaining table with a host of unions across its local newsrooms. (DNAinfo and Gothamist saw more negative ownership repercussions after staff voted to unionize, with owner Joe Ricketts shutting the sites down days later.) Tribune Publishing voluntarily recognized the newer unions, most recently the Hartford Courant in February.

If you’re in need of a refresher on how media got into all this unionization, our sister publication Nieman Reports traced it from Gawker’s 2015 move to the Tribune today:

Several of the early digital contracts made impressive gains. Some Vice writers were earning just $35,000, and the contract set a $45,000 floor, giving some writers an immediate $10,000, or 28 percent, raise. Gawker’s first contract called for a 9 percent raise over three years, as well as a minimum salary of $50,000 for any full-time employee and a minimum of $70,000 for senior writers and editors. To help reduce the helter-skelter aspect of raises, every Gawker employee was given the right to meet at least once yearly with his or her supervisor to discuss merit raises. In case of layoffs, Gawker pledged two weeks’ severance pay for every year on the job, and it improved its 401(k) plan to give a dollar-for-dollar match for the first 3 percent of pay.

Impressed by such gains, more digital journalists unionized, including those at Thrillist, Mic, Salon, Jacobin, ThinkProgress, and Al Jazeera America (before it closed). “Once Gawker did it, other folks said, ‘We could do this,’ and it quickly became the norm in the new media world,” says Dave Jamieson, HuffPost’s labor reporter.

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