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June 1, 2023, 12:12 p.m.
Business Models

Gannett journalists across the U.S. will strike on June 5

Gannett has around 200 newsrooms, and editorial employees at around two dozen of those will go on strike.

On Monday, June 5, Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain, will hold its annual shareholders meeting — and “hundreds” of Gannett union journalists across the U.S. will walk off the job, the NewsGuild–CWA said Thursday.

Most Gannett journalists are not unionized and will not be striking. Gannett owns around 200 papers, and NewsGuild said employees from two dozen of those papers are going on strike, across seven states.

As of December 31, 2022, Gannett said it had around 11,200 U.S. employees and that only about 17% of them are represented by unions; that figure includes Teamsters drivers, for instance.

NewsGuild–CWA is calling on shareholders to withhold their votes on Mike Reed, board chair and CEO of Gannett. “Under Reed’s stewardship of the company following the merger of GateHouse Media and Gannett Media in November 2019, newsrooms have been hollowed out, local news coverage has dwindled, and Gannett share prices have fallen nearly 70% — far more than peers in the industry like the New York Times and Lee Enterprises,” NewsGuild–CWA said in its release. (Some journalists who work for those peers have been striking, too.)

NewsGuild shared statistics from individual Gannett papers to back up its claims. The Austin American-Stateman, for instance, cut its unionized newsroom staff by 79.5% between 2013 and 2023, NewsGuild said. In 2013, Ohio’s Record-Courier had 43 unionized newsroom employees; today, NewsGuild says, it has four.

In March, in a piece titled “The scale of local news destruction in Gannett’s markets is astonishing,” my colleague Josh Benton wrote, “Gannett has eliminated more than half of its jobs in the United States in four years. It’s as if, instead of merging America’s two largest newspaper chains, one of them was simply wiped off the face of the earth.”

For its part, Gannett says it’s saving local journalism, in those words: “We are going to save local journalism, and we’re going to do it by working together with absolutely clear eyes about the challenge and tremendous speed toward the solution,” Gannett’s chief content officer, Kristin Roberts, said recently when announcing the launch of an initiative the company is calling “Project Breakthrough,” which “focuses on key growth areas to increase nationwide audience, including opinion columns, newsletters, service journalism, breaking news and audience engagement.”

Unionized Gannett journalists say that they’re deeply underpaid, while CEO Reed made around $3.4 million in 2022. “All we want is a fair contract and enough income to allow us to live in the communities we cover,” members of the Palm Beach News Guild said in a statement, adding, “As we’ve lost editors, photographers, and reporters our papers have gotten thinner while Gannett charges subscribers higher rates. Many of us have gotten no raises in years, amounting to annual pay cuts due to the dramatic cost-of-living increases of the past few years.”

The June 5 strike will not include the employees at Gannett’s regionalized design/editing centers who are in charge of actually putting the papers out. Gannett said in a statement that “Despite the anticipated work stoppage, we will not cease delivering trusted news to our loyal readers. Our goal is to preserve journalism and serve our communities across the country as we continue to bargain in good faith to finalize contracts that provide equitable wages and benefits for our valued employees.”

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (laura_owen@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     June 1, 2023, 12:12 p.m.
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