If the coronavirus crisis has taught us anything, it is that the work of journalists and photojournalists is essential. Without it how would we know how our communities are being affected? How would we know the basic measures we need to take to ensure our health? How would we know about the political controversies involving everything from the availability of tests and respirators to the opening of schools and workplaces?
Our work as journalists and photojournalists is taking us out into our communities, often without adequate protective gear, interviewing struggling families and photographing the courageous workers who remain on the job, keeping our society functioning.
As journalists and photojournalists we are critical to surviving the current crisis, as we tell the stories of working men and women, and highlight the needs of working people. We are working-class people ourselves, many represented by unions like my own, The NewsGuild, CWA.
And as workers, we are suffering the disastrous impact, not just of the virus crisis, but also of the economic storm engulfing our industry. The revenues of news outlets are crumbling as advertisers cut back, even as there are more readers than ever before for the content we produce.
This crisis has meant acute job losses, as it has for many workers. The nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett, is furloughing thousands of reporters, and layoffs have hit virtually every major publication. The losses hit hardest at those communities that have only one newspaper or limited media outlets. Where local news people lose their jobs, our communities lose the coverage of how the crisis is affecting us, and our ability to have a voice in how it’s resolved.
But job losses and closing outlets didn’t just start with the virus. More than 2,000 American newspapers have folded or merged since 2004.
At the same time, most newspapers are now owned by massive corporations and hedge funds, which routinely cut budgets and jobs in the newsroom while pushing ever-higher profits. Now, many call for bailouts that would give them money, but with no requirement that they preserve jobs or use their media for public service during this critical time.
Our union’s members at the NewsGuild understand that the industry needs a capital infusion, but it can’t be a corporate bailout with no strings attached. In fact, this is the moment when we all have to assert that the needs of our communities and workers come first.
The NewsGuild, therefore, is proposing a set of basic conditions that would not only save jobs, but also start us down the road to developing media to serve community interests:
A publicly financed fund must support newsrooms and media workers, to prevent layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts.
News outlets receiving aid must remain independent from partisan influence, demonstrate a real need, and report their use of funding. Public funds shouldn’t finance mergers and acquisitions, job losses, leveraged buyouts, anti-union activity, executive bonuses, or stock buybacks or dividends.
Companies getting funds must not cut newspaper jobs.
Recipient companies must provide information on staff diversity.
Non-management employees must hold one-quarter of the seats on recipient companies’ boards of directors.
No-interest loans should be available for creating news start-ups, including nonprofits and employee-owned co-ops.
Subscriptions to any news product should be tax-deductible.
Chains must be encouraged to sell to local owners and community organizations.
A nationwide federal advertising program should promote public health, participation in the federal census, and other issues of national welfare.
We are calling our effort, “Save the News,” and we are circulating a petition to our members of Congress calling on them to take action. We invite all members of our communities, our friends and coworkers, to join with us. ActionNetwork.org/Petitions/Life-Saving-News-Needs-a-Stimulus
David Bacon is a longtime member
of the Pacific Mediaworkers Guild,
CWA Local 39521.