Workers of the Newsrooms Unite: An Analysis of Union Organizing in U.S. Local News Media, 2017 to present

"Workers of the Newsrooms Unite: An Analysis of Union Organizing in U.S. Local News Media, 2017 to present" table of contents

  1. Workers of the Newsrooms Unite: An Analysis of Union Organizing in U.S. Local News Media, 2017 to present
  2. Local Newsrooms Organizing Amidst a Wave of Unionization in Media Organizations
  3. Local News Unions and Ownership
  4. Where Local News Unions Are Being Formed
  5. Conclusion

The report “Workers of the Newsrooms Unite” analyzes the surge in union organizing within U.S. local news media from 2017 to the present, highlighting the factors driving unionization, the impact of media consolidation, and the success rates of union efforts in various states.

Workers of the Newsrooms Unite: An Analysis of Union Organizing in U.S. Local News Media, 2017 to present

Jessica Mahone, Research Director

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media
UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media

Since 2015, workers in a growing number of media organizations have unionized. Initially, those unionizing were primarily workers in digital media, but workers at more traditional— and smaller— media organizations soon followed, unionizing in response to consolidation, layoffs, stagnant pay, and declining benefits.

Existing research and writing into this trend has focused on the general momentum behind unionization in media companies with some analysis of the outcomes for some specific unions. Fu examined unionization in media organizations between 2012 and 2021 and found that there has been a steady increase in the number of media organizations not just unionizing but successfully gaining representation. Additionally, unions at media organizations are bucking a 40-year decline of unions in the U.S..

This unionization momentum has happened against the backdrop in the decline of local news, increasing consolidation of local news media, and acquisition of local newspapers by investment firms. Between 2004 and 2019, the U.S lost 2,100 newspapers, and although digital and TV newsrooms saw slight increases in employment, total newsroom employment declined 50%. Additionally, in the past two and a half years, three mergers and acquisitions have placed approximately 850 local newspapers in the hands of investment companies.

In late 2019, Gatehouse merged with Gannett). In late 2020, Chatham Asset Management acquired McClatchy, and in mid-2021, Alden Global Capital acquired Tribune Publishing. Such acquisitions come with “a new management philosophy focused on bottom-line performance to the exclusion of journalism’s civic mission” and measures to cut costs that often include layoffs.

Most existing analysis of and reporting about unionization in media companies has not specifically addressed unionization in local newsrooms, and while some have suggested ownership changes and the growing consolidation of local news media as factors in workers’ decisions to unionize, there is limited research about the role acquisitions and consolidation play in newsroom unionization. However, Proffitt’s (2019) case study of union organizers at the Lakeland Ledger and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which formed a union in 2016, indicates that concerns over consolidation is a motivating factor for newsrooms to unionize.

The following report examines data on unionization in media organizations over the past five years, specifically examining factors that drive unions in local newsrooms between 2017 and early 2022. “Local” is defined here as providing content meeting a critical information need to a specific community, city, county, or state. This report explores the unionization of local newsrooms in relation to broader trends in media unionization, the success of union drives in local newsrooms, the role of ownership in unionization in local newsrooms and if local newsroom unions are forming in right-to-work or union-friendly states.

Some highlights from this report:

  • Local newsrooms make up about half of the media organizations where workers have unionized in the past five years.
  • Fully 90% of unions organized by workers in local newsrooms have gained representation.
  • Approximately a third of local newsrooms unions that have gained representation over the past five years have been voluntarily recognized by management, two thirds have gained representation through an election.
  • More than 40% of newsrooms where workers organized a union changed hands in the year before or the year after unionizing.
  • Local newsroom unions in right-to-work states have been more successful in gaining representation than local newsroom unions in union-friendly states.
  • Local newsroom workers in 28 states and the District of Columbia have organized unions, mapped below

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"Workers of the Newsrooms Unite: An Analysis of Union Organizing in U.S. Local News Media, 2017 to present" table of contents

  1. Workers of the Newsrooms Unite: An Analysis of Union Organizing in U.S. Local News Media, 2017 to present
  2. Local Newsrooms Organizing Amidst a Wave of Unionization in Media Organizations
  3. Local News Unions and Ownership
  4. Where Local News Unions Are Being Formed
  5. Conclusion