Conditions In Local News Sparks Collective Action
Lauren Lindstrom saw up close and personal the benefits of being part of a union during her four years as a reporter for the Toledo Blade, her first journalism job out of college. In the past 20 years, the guild has been extremely active, fighting against the loss of its healthcare during the pandemic, against a lockout of 200 employees in 2006 and against its corporate owner’s refusal to bargain remotely during the pandemic in January 2021. They’re currently at the bargaining table — and have won the paper 10 statewide journalism awards in the last year. “I learned first-hand from older journalists what working in a unionized newsroom looks like: Having each other’s backs, having more say in your workplace, better working conditions for journalists who have been suffering for years,” she said. She came to Charlotte in June 2019 through Report for America and joined McClatchy’s Charlotte Observer as an affordable housing reporter.
During the last three years at The Observer, staff members have been through staff buyouts, bankruptcy, the paper’s sale to a hedge fund and the loss of their office during the pandemic. Lindstrom was one of the organizers for The Charlotte Observer News Guild, which was voluntarily recognized days after forming in late January.
The Observer unionization comes at a time when labor unionization efforts have been growing across news media, including all sectors of local news. From Jan. 1, 2017 to Feb. 28, 2022, 108 local news organizations have successfully unionized, according to a new study by the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media.
Benefits & Limitations Benefits: Unionization often offers a greater sense of community within the organization and a deeper connection to other journalists. With contracts, efforts to improve pay, HR protection and benefits, standards for diversity and inclusion and more are legally binding. Limitations: It can be challenging to successfully negotiate a contract, especially with a large chain. The wins seen may not be as dramatic as expected, and middle management is often left unprotected.
New York Times Reaches 9.1 Million Subscribers
The New York Times Company said on Wednesday that it had gained 387,000 net digital subscribers in the first quarter. Aided by the recent addition of the sports website The Athletic, The New York Times Company said on Wednesday that it had added 387,000 net digital subscribers in the first quarter. The company now has 9.1 million subscribers, it said, when including those from The Athletic, which the Times Company bought on Feb. 1.
While the jump gets The Times closer to its stated goal of 15 million subscribers by the end of 2027, The Athletic is eating into the company’s profits. The website, which The Times bought for $550 million in cash, lost $6.8 million over February and March. Overall, the company reported adjusted operating profit of $60.9 million for the quarter, a decrease from $68.1 million a year earlier, hurt by The Athletic’s operating losses.
The growth in subscriptions as well as advertising helped push total revenue up 13.6 percent to $537.4 million. While total advertising revenue was up almost 20 percent, digital advertising revenue for the quarter increased 12.6 percent, lower than the company’s forecasts. Total operating costs rose nearly 18 percent to $496.4 million.
“We’re off to a strong start on the next phase of our strategy, which is to become the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world,” Meredith Kopit Levien, the president and chief executive of the Times Company, said in a statement. Ms. Levien previously said Times executives believed that market was “at least 135 million” potential subscribers.
University Of Kansas Leading Project To Test New Business Model For Rural, Weekly Newspapers
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Teri Finneman, associate professor of journalism at KU, took part in an oral history project to help document the experiences of rural, weekly newspapers.
Teri Finneman“We saw during the pandemic how absolutely critical it was to have a local news source. You couldn’t get community-specific news about COVID anywhere else,” Finneman said. “At the same time, we saw newsrooms closing. It hit me that this is the time to look at a new business model.”
Finneman and research partners Pat Ferrucci of the University of Colorado-Boulder and Nick Mathews of the University of Minnesota conducted surveys with 132 publishers from the Great Plains states, primarily from newspapers in communities with populations of 3,000 or fewer. The publishers were presented with 15 potential revenue streams and asked which they would be willing to try. Respondents said they were most receptive to the traditional threads of advertising, subscriptions and legal notices. The least popular options were memberships, enewsletters, government support and large private donations.
More than 400 readers in rural areas of these states were given a similar survey, asking in what ways they would consider supporting their local newspapers. Memberships, events and e-newsletters were among the most popular responses.
“We found there’s a tremendous disconnect between what readers say they are willing to support and what publishers are willing to consider,” Finneman said. “This business model we’re testing is all about being proactive if the day comes when newspapers lose another revenue source in legal notices, having a safety net in place and evolving.”
Layoffs Expected At Lee Enterprises
Lee Enterprises has been quietly laying off dozens of employees across its local papers and at the corporate level as it continues to cut costs following the unsolicited takeover bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital, sources tell Axios.
Why it matters: Lee is one of the last remaining independent local newspaper companies. With these drastic and ongoing cuts, journalists are left to wonder whether a hedge fund takeover could have been better than staying independent.
By the numbers: One source said more than 400 roles are expected to be cut in total this year across at least 19 Leeowned local papers and corporate functions.
• The cuts could represent as much as 10% of Lee’s total staff being reduced. On September 26, 2021, Lee said it had approximately 4,793 full-time equivalent employees, 805 in unions.
• Lee owns and operates around 75 daily newspapers and nearly 350 weekly and specialty publications across 77 markets in 26 states. Lee acquired Berkshire Hathaway’s newspaper operations for $140 million in early 2020. A spokesperson for Lee didn’t deny the cuts in response to an email asking about the scale.
• “As Lee Enterprises continues to transition from a print-centric to a digital-first business, we need to make job reductions to better align staffing with our long-term strategy,” they said in an email to Axios.
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