“What a Labor Union Is and How It Works” (Teen Vogue)
“How Unions Keep Inequality in Check” (The Nation)
If we want to change whom our economy works for, we must change who gets to exercise power. And this paper makes it clear: There is power in a union.
“What’s Driving the New Wave of Unionization Sweeping Digital Newsrooms?” (Columbia Journalism Review)
Newsroom unionizing has become a way to ask what it means to be a journalist in the 21st century. Ought journalists hold the institutions that employ them to the same standards of behavior as the organizations they cover? Does failing to do so compromise the work of an individual journalist? Can a reporter cover sexual harassment if one’s manager has also been accused? What, if anything, separates a journalist from the public actions of their employer?
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The speed at which unionization has proliferated might look precipitate, but the nature of workplaces tends to change faster than both the laws that govern them and the business models that shape them. As they live through the ever-shifting existential crisis within the business, young journalists are evaluating the conditions in which they work, and doing it in public so as to show their relationship to that work. It’s clear, at least, that they see themselves as workers.
“The Reasons for Unionizing Haven’t Changed Much in the Last 80 Years” (Columbia Journalism Review)
In addition to pushing for better pay and job security, many reporters in the Newspaper Guild’s early days were looking for guarantees that they could do their work without powerful publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Frank Gannett, a fierce critic of Franklin D. Roosevelt and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1940, pressing them to tilt their journalism to the right. Ben Scott, a senior adviser at New America who wrote his dissertation on the Newspaper Guild’s early years, says its founding “was all about creating a way to wall off the integrity of professional journalists from the political interests and concerns of the publishers.”
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Today’s journalists are streaming into unions for many of the same reasons as reporters in the 1930s: poor wages, long hours, skimpy benefits, and worries about layoffs. “It’s the same issues that motivate people to unionize throughout history: How are they treated, how are they paid, what are the benefits?” says Linda Foley, who was president of the Newspaper Guild from 1995 to 2008. “And there’s always a job security component.”
Another parallel: Many of today’s digital journalists, like their predecessors in the 1930s, are keen to have a union to help ensure they can do their work insulated from pressures by business interests or advertisers. Nowadays, many also want to ensure that their websites have a clear line between journalistic content and so-called sponsored or native content.
“How to Save Journalism” (The New Republic)
The biggest threat to the health of the media industry is Silicon Valley. And the antidote might just be organized labor.
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“It’s really a culture shift at The New Yorker, where some people feel that being paid in prestige is acceptable and expected,” said Natalie Meade, a fact-checker and bargaining committee member at the magazine. “One thing we’re trying to instill in the culture is that we are intellectual workers, and a union is something that is worthwhile in the long run for the longevity of the magazine.”
“I thought unions could be good for some workplaces but others were good enough without unions and so they should be avoided. I was wrong. We need more unions everywhere.”
Journalists and Self-Organization (Notes from Below)
Digital journalists are keenly aware of journalism’s precarity, workers’ mobility, and companies’ tendencies to routinely announce layoffs or closures. Since winning a better deal from a current employer is not a long-term strategy for securing a livelihood in such a volatile business, journalist-organizers have recognized that unionization is not only about improving conditions at a single workplace, but about building solidarity and raising standards across their sector. From this perspective, “movement” is more apt than “wave” to describe the union push in digital media. Framing it as a movement also acknowledges the networks of solidarity that support these organizing campaigns. Journalists hold no illusions that unionizing is a panacea, but they recognize nonetheless that a union can be, in one media worker’s words, “a living and breathing mechanism to distribute power more evenly.”
If there is any one general theme here, besides the usual apocalyptic warnings about destruction of the magazine, it is the disavowal of ordinariness, as if ordinariness were the eighth deadly sin. The company is profit-making “but not in any orthodox way.” The publishers “went counter to almost every normal business impulse.” The New Yorker is a “miracle.” And so forth. To someone so convinced that those under him shared the ideals he wanted to believe he represented — gentility, fairness, modesty, self-sacrifice, antimaterialism, humanity, and above all a devotion to truth as expressed through the written word — it must have come as quite a shock to see that a lot of his employees also considered putting out the New Yorker to be a job, one for which they were increasingly poorly paid.
The New Yorker’s Record-Breaking Growth and Expansion Plans
Total paid circulation for the highbrow weekly rose 12.3 percent last year to 1.2 million, even as the subscription price grew 20 percent to $120 for the most popular print-digital bundle. … Helped by the additional circulation revenue, The New Yorker has hired 15 writers for the site in the past year for a total of 40 (a mix of web-only and web-focused staff writers) and plans to add up to 10 more this year, focused on areas like Washington and health. The publication hasn’t cut back, saying the goal is to offer more to readers, as it’s found that the more kinds of content people read, the more willing they are to pay up.
When The New Yorker put its site behind a metered paywall in November of 2014, the expectation was that traffic would go down. Not only did traffic increase 30 percent within a few months (it’s now 15.6 million uniques), but subscriptions grew 85 percent year over year. Then came the election, which delivered The New Yorker’s biggest month ever in subscription growth in January, when it sold 100,000, a 300 percent increase over the year-ago month. Circulation is now the highest it’s ever been, at 1.1 million, a combination of print/digital, print-only and digital-only.
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Unlike other publications that are going after reader revenue to offset flagging ad revenue, The New Yorker is still growing on the ad side. For the first two months of the year, advertising rose 20 percent year over year, most of that coming from digital. Still, reader revenue is a growing part of the mix, driving 55 percent of the revenue, so the priority is turning readers into paying subscribers.
“To date, the piece has generated: 4.4 million unique visitors, making it newyorker.com’s most-read piece of 2017 so far and 1.7 million entries from social-media platforms,” the magazine disclosed Sunday. It also generated “more than 100,000 concurrent visitors in the hours following publication, a record for newyorker.com.” And, “Since the story was published, we’ve seen a 92 percent increase in the July daily average of new subs.”
Sometimes as many as 10 people read New Yorker stories before they’re published in the print magazine: the author, the story editor (works with the author to shape the piece), the copy editor, the query proofreader (a sort of editorial gadfly), the fact-checker, the page OK-er (a combination copy editor, query proofreader and line editor), the proofreader and the foundry reader (the last read before press). Plus, the editor in chief and deputy editors often weigh in. That kind of editorial rigor produces sparkling prose, but it’s at odds with the pace of The New Yorker’s website, which now publishes about 15 stories per day, Thompson said. So, a different approach was required. In 2012, Remnick appointed Thompson digital editor and tasked him with transforming The New Yorker’s website from a repository of magazine stories to an ambitious entity of its own.