Journalists at the State Journal-Register started something when the stood up to the asset-stripping managers at GateHouse Media and voted to join The NewsGuild.
Their colleagues at the Rockford Register Star followed that lead and also voted in the Guild. They joined the Guild-represented Peoria Journal Star and Pekin Daily Times in the battle against GateHouse.
Recently newsroom employees at the Lakeland Ledger voted to join the Guild, their GateHouse colleagues at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune voted to do the same.
Unionization is unheard at Florida newspapers, so these votes underscore the severity of journalists’ concerns with GateHouse management.
Of course, the company is not happy about this. The organizing drive in Sarasota met with particularly heavy resistance from Herald-Tribune executive editor Bill Church.
In fact, management’s attempts to intimidate our activists there led to an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company and strengthened the resolve of the journalists seeking representation.
Church subsequently got promoted to Senior Vice President for News at GateHouse Media. He will move to Austin to oversee the company’s Center for News & Design.
GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis trumpeted Church’s ascension as proof that the company cares about journalism.
“It is essential for GateHouse to have a corporate advocate for its news employees, enterprise-wide, who appreciates the diversity of our markets, who can engage our news leaders in the ‘conversation’ about how we evolve our news organization, and who possesses the ability to communicate effectively and consistently about our journey,” Davis said in a GateHouse memo.
Church’s promotion further cleansed the company of its ugly Las Vegas stain, which involved one of the most egregious lapses in journalism ethics in memory.
Journalists across the company hope Church’s ascension will create more opportunity to do vital enterprise reporting. They hope this move is more than just a PR gesture.
But if the GateHouse reality remains the same — eternal pay freezes, staffing cuts, journalists hiring on for less than a living wage — then news-gathering operations will continue eroding and communities will keep suffering.
And more newsrooms will follow the SJ-R lead and join the Guild. As industry analysts Rick Edmonds told the Columbia Journalism Review, “I don’t know if this is two in a series of two or two in a series of 12. But it’s not a good thing for your business if your journalists are saying, ‘We can’t really serve our community.’”