Being a journalist sometimes comes with the struggles of low pay, long hours and a lack of diversity and equity in the newsroom.
In a Society of Professional Journalists breakout session on Sept. 4, panelists explore the benefits of unionizing newsrooms, arguments against it and how newsrooms both big and small can do it.
Susan DeCarava, president of The NewsGuild of New York, said over the past few years, many traditional news media outlets that were historically deeply anti-union started to unionize and organize around issues that matter.
“You can’t separate the issue of economic precarity, lack of job security from the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” DeCarava said. “They go hand in hand in every workplace…when you don’t have a diverse newsroom along racial lines, along gender lines, along economic lines, everyone suffers in that context.”
She said that the top three issues cited by people interested in organizing unions are economic uncertainty, job security and diversity, equity and inclusion in their newsrooms. The organizers also want to ensure that there is a commitment to the craft of journalism.
“We have seen in organized newsrooms where people suffer under tremendously low pay, incredible hours, incredible pressure to produce content as opposed to news and really feel themselves under the thumb, not of newsroom or editorial management, but under a greater imperative to commodify everything that they produce,” DeCarava said.
Matt DiRienzo, editor-in-chief of the Center for Public Integrity, said that one of the things that attracted him to take the position of editor-in-chief was the fact that the newsroom was already unionized before he came and voluntarily recognized the union.
“They came up with a pretty progressive contract and I thought that that was a good sign about the organization’s values,” DiRienzo said.
He added that it is better for employees and management to have a union contract negotiating issues.
Fatima Hussein, a worker safety legal reporter at Bloomberg Law, said that one of the practical benefits of being in a union, especially as a woman of color often overlooked for opportunities, is that it is a great place to develop leadership skills.
“I think that it’s a true meritocracy where they see that I’m capable of leading things and keeping us out of trouble and ensuring that we’re financially stable,” Hussein said. “I think just for the practicality of if you’re overlooked in your newsroom, the union is likely the place where you’ll find that people will elevate you for your actual talent and hard work.”