The pandemic and financial collapse have devastated an industry already in crisis long before these recent events unfolded. In the US, more than 25% of newsroom employees have lost their jobs over the past 10 years as hedge funds have taken over the industry, and more than 2,000 newspaper, weeklies and regional and local outlets have folded. According to The New York Times, since March more that 33,000 journalists have either been furloughed, laid off, or have taken wage cuts. According to one survey, approximately 80% of freelancers who have applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in the US have yet to receive it as of May 1.
While journalists have been hard hit by the current crisis, our unions are actually entering into this battle from a position of relative strength, with The NewsGuild and the WGAE having organized more than 5,000 journalists since 2015.
TNG-CWA has avoided layoffs at least for the time being, at The Miami Herald and The Denver Post, and has convinced management at The Los Angeles Times and The Omaha World-Herald to offer a “work sharing” program that, under the complex terms of the federal stimulus, could actually result in some workers earning more taking one day-a-week furloughs than they did working full time.
The NWU has organized close to 300 digital-media freelancers since October, and recently joined with 12 other writer and media groups in sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seeking extended and improved benefits for freelancers during this crisis.
The IFJ NA affiliate unions are focused on protecting our members in the short run while creating a more stable industry in the future. This includes a combination of securing government funding for journalism in the US and Canada as a public good, and creating international pressure to tax GAFAM, especially Google and Facebook, which have sucked up much of the advertising revenue and posting news that they did not produce. This is the thrust of the IFJ Global Platform for Quality Journalism. The NewsGuild has launched a lobbying effort for government funding to support journalism, including grants to keep journalists on the payrolls.
We are planning on using a higher level of member activism and increased organizing against, like at Amazon, to fight for changes that could lead to a restructured and more secure industry on the other side of this storm.
Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union (NWA)