It was election day in New Jersey, normally a very busy day for journalists, especially to cover many important, competitive races that will have a direct impact on the lives of millions state residents who depend directly on the services and protection that government provides, particularly local affairs, education, police and other government functions. Normally on election days debts is one of the busiest, most important time for journalists to cover and provide relevant information about the candidates, their respective campaigns and the final results. This election day will be very different in New Jersey as hundreds of reporters, writers and related staff members walked off the job at several of the largest newspapers in the state, all of them collectively owned by the largest chain of newspapers and local media in the United States, the Gannett Newspaper Corporation. The purpose of the one day walk off is to protest against hundreds of job cuts, reporters, journalists, writers and related staff members at Gannett Newspapers in New Jersey, but thousands of similar job and salary cuts at Gannett Newspapers across the country.
To justify firing reporters, writers and supporting staff, Gannett’s public media managers cited deteriorating profit margins at all Gannett Newspapers. What the Gannett publicists did not mention, however, was the enormous amount of crushing debt payments the company borrowed from capitalist investors charging high-interest for their loans and looking for a huge profit from their investment in Gannett Newspapers. Their short-term strategy to pay off the loan sharks was for Gannett executives to fire as many reporters and supporting staff as they could to cut expenses while maintaining sufficient revenue to pay off their creditors. The leftover staff who were not fired saw their pay cut significantly while their workload and assignments were substantially increased.
While Gannett workers lost their jobs or saw their pay reduced and work obligations increase, Gannett executives had their compensation increase by huge amounts. The new CEO of Gannett Newspapers, Mikel Reed, had his compensation increase by millions of dollars, more than any other CEO in the newspaper industry. All this as the Gannett Company struggled to pay off its debts and Gannett stock dropped by a significant percentage. The rich bosses at Gannett Newspapers got richer while their workers who they didn’t fire became poorer.
The cutbacks at Gannett Newspapers targeted mainly local news and communities of color. Journalists, reporters, and beat writers who cover local news and community issues were the first ones to be let go. The reductions in local news coverage affected mostly political news and government involvement in local affairs. Other than car accidents and crime, there just isn’t enough interest in local news to justify the expense. The profit margin covering local news just wasn’t big enough, and since profits are more important than keeping people informed about what is happening in their community, journalists and beat writers who cover local affairs were the first ones to go.
Another significant reduction in news coverage affects minority groups and communities. As with local news, there is insufficient profitability to cover news and issues affecting minority communities. With less purchasing power than white, middle and upper class readers, disadvantaged minority groups are less attractive to advertisers seeking to maximize their return from advertising expenditures. Corporate media bosses are more interested in maximizing their revenue from advertisers than they are about fulfilling their professional obligations to fully inform residents of all communities, including low-income, disadvantaged and minority groups.
Another example of corporate media driven by maximizing profit at the expense of union workers to satisfy vulture investors is the recent layoffs affecting dozens of sports journalists and editors from the New York Times. In a classic example of union busting, the New York Times transferred members of the New York Times Guild, the largest journalist’s union in the country, to a non-union subsidiary, the Athletic, that the New York Times purchased last year. As a result of this move the New York Times can increase its profitability while unionized sports writers and editors transferred to the non-union Athletic will be much more vulnerable to economic exploitation and job insecurity with no protection against worker abuse that the union provides.
Thousands of laid off journalists and related staff are not going away without a fight. All over the US workers are fighting back against corporate bosses, predatory investors and vulture capitalists who seek to maximize their wealth at the expense of workers and consumers. Especially at the Gannett Newspaper Corporation, which is the largest in the country, where workers who are still employed are organizing and unionizing in order to better protect their interests against relentless assault from their corporate bosses, especially greedy executives exemplified by Gannett CEO Mike Reed. The recent strike by Gannett employees in New Jersey is just the tip of the iceberg for a vast, growing movement among journalists and media workers to join unions as well as explore other options and alternatives to for-profit corporate media. Unions that represent workers in the newspaper and related media companies, especially the Newsguild and Communication Workers Of America, are seeing rapid growth in their membership during the past few years.
At the local level reporters, journalists and writers who specialized in covering local news and issues of interest to their respective communities, and who lost their jobs at Gannett and other large corporate media, are beginning to organize and collaborate at setting up their own non-profit collective news gathering cooperatives. At the state and local level, independent journalists are organizing their own networks on social media. These networks specialize in delivering local news and other issues of interest, especially to poor, disadvantaged and minority communities that otherwise would receive little if any coverage from for-profit corporate media. Hyperlocal news coverage, and non-profit collaborative news gathering organizations at the state and regional level are becoming more commonplace in all parts of the country. “Citizen Journalism” is also becoming more frequent as concerned citizens are taking a more active role in providing news and relevant information to underserved groups and communities.
In some cases philanthropic foundations and charitable trusts are taking the place of for-profit corporate media in many large media markets. In the Philadelphia market the Lenfest Institute for Journalism publishes the city’s largest newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, as a non-profit service to the public, as a charitable trust. In New Jersey the Corporation For New Jersey Local Media has been acquiring local news weekly publications to operate as a non-profit collective ownership of news coverage that otherwise would never be covered by corporate media.Unlike giant corporate media, journalists, reporters, writers and supporting staff are very involved in policy and business management decisions.
For progressive activists and other interested parties the message is very clear. Stop feeding predatory media, don’t read, don’t advertise, and urge others concerned about the pernicious influence of for profit newspapers and media companies to do the same. Insead, patronize community supported media, nonprofit news coverage, and any other sources of information to the public that operate in the public interest, not private, predatory investor-owned publications that seek to maximize profit at the expense of the public interest. There are many options and alternatives available to those who seek relevant news and information by supporting nonprofit media, and various collective and cooperative groups, organizations and other community sources that do not depend on maximizing revenue to investors, shareholders and other vulture, capitalist interests.
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