Union Jacked

Anyone who actually knows me knows what I think of journalism.

It is not an 8-5 M-F job. At least, not for me. I work six or seven days a week (seven during the political season—as I write this, it’s past midnight on Saturday night).

Why do this? What else is there?

If you love getting the story first, as I do, and getting it right, as I do, you’ll make those sacrifices. And those you love will make them, too.

I was useless at celebrating my birthday this year—in no small part because I covered an Adam Putnam event the Saturday before, and decided to get five stories out of it. Among them was the GOP frontrunner’s as-yet-unmodified defense of the border separation policy.

As friends know, one of my dearest pets—friends, really—passed away pretty much as my birthday ended. I had a day to put it in perspective.

Then it was back to the beat.

It’s what I thought was needed. For the stories.

This is not a healthy or recommended way to go about this business, of course. But it’s where I am. My recent visibility in journalism has been, in large part, a function of a ridiculous work ethic over the last four years.

The payoff: I no longer have to try to cut interviews or write breaking news during lunch breaks at a cubicle job. But I’m still a freelancer.

Most journalists don’t deal with trying to build strong careers off 1099 gigs, and that’s a good thing. There is work I do well (quick hits, political horse races, occasionally interesting interviews), but I know I’m hamstrung by the day-to-day pressures. Some days, I write seven stories.

That’s a lot.

To do a bunch of stories on any given day, one sacrifices. My sacrifice (to quote Creed): the ability or the bandwidth to do deep dive investigations. That’s left, by and large, to corporate newsrooms. They have the workforce, the efficiencies of team.

The folks working the news side at The Florida Times-Union are able to do deep dives like that, including stories on “walking while black” and the seeming inevitability of more catastrophic tropical flooding. Those stories, justifiably lauded, take time and resources.

And for writers to feel like they can fully invest in that kind of work, the sort that, if done right, can change communities, they need to feel their organization backs them up.

It became clear last week that, amid a series of staff cuts over the years, the T-U news staff is leery. To that end, they are looking to unionize.

If this goes through, the T-U will be the third GateHouse newsroom in Florida to unionize. And one can understand why.

The reasons run the gamut; employees want stability in light of the cuts. A union offers a hedge all too rare in a right-to-fire state like Florida. Pay is another reason. One reporter, with the paper since 1987, has yet to hit $40,000 a year in a salary. Consider barely making a living wage (depending on lifestyle) after a 30-year run, even as Morris Communications made and now GateHouse definitely makes their money.

That’s the reality for a lot of T-U writers.

Against the backdrop of wage stagnation/fall, and job instability via outside ownership, is it so hard to imagine why they might seek representation? Is it so hard to understand why they might seek to organize collectively?

Most people with an opinion on this matter, who’ve struggled in the post-2008 economy despite a boom in equity markets, would contend not.

These are folks who have families, and legitimate aspirations for the stability of middle-class life. These writers are able to do what writers outside an organizational sphere cannot do: petition for redress of their grievances.

Consider their mission statement. “We fear that GateHouse’s short-term strategies will lead to more and more cuts in the future. As of today, there are fewer than 40 full-time employees working across the Times-Union newsroom in metro, opinion, life, sports, photo and the copy desk—a third of the staff we had just five years ago.

“Once-filled desks now sit empty,” the statement adds.

“For too long, under Morris and under GateHouse, we have come to work waiting for a shoe to drop, waiting to be called into an office, waiting to learn of layoffs. We have had no say in the future of our own newspaper, and the disconnect between corporate and the newsroom is vast. We believe the success of The Florida Times-Union depends on its editorial staff. We must be a part of GateHouse’s decision-making processes to ensure we are not overlooked,” the statement continued.

Can you blame them for wanting bargaining power, at long last?