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

By Jessica Mahone, Ph.D.

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 (Napoli, et al., 2018). 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

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Meet the staff

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Jessica Mahone is the research director for the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. She has previously researched local news at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy and Pew Research Center and held evaluation roles at Report for America and Democracy Fund. She earned her Ph.D. in Mass Communication at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.