Media Briefing: A timeline of media unions’ actions this quarter
This week’s media briefing chronicles all of the most recent actions from media unions to reach a deal on their contracts before the year comes to an end.
- A timeline of newsroom unions’ recent actions
- A look at WSJ’s TikTok strategy
- BuzzFeed eliminates 12% of its staff, The Washington Post folds its ad tech business and more
A timeline of newsroom unions’ recent actions
Newsroom unions trying to reach a deal on their contracts with company management are getting fired up as the end of the year nears.
Since the start of the pandemic, journalists at publications like The Atlantic and Politico have formed unions that were voluntarily recognized by management — but it hasn’t been as smooth of a process for other newsrooms.
The New York Times union threatened to go on a work stoppage strike on Thursday for the first time since the 1970s. Reuters held a two-day picket earlier this month. Hearst Magazine’s union held a rally on Cyber Monday.
With all the activity happening among media unions in the past few months, it can be difficult to keep track of all the different actions taking place, as well as what the outcomes have been.
Here’s a list of major union activity — from strikes to rallies — that occurred this quarter, in reverse-chronological order:
The New York Times
Date: Dec. 2
Action: Threatening to strike
The details: Unionized workers at The New York Times sent a pledge signed by over 1,000 people to company executives, threatening to walk out on their jobs for 24 hours on Dec. 8 if a contract is not reached. The union’s last contract expired in March 2021. The Times union is planning to hold a public rally outside The New York Times building at 1 p.m. ET today.
Outcome: TBD. So far, Times management has told employees that they will not get paid on Dec. 8 if they go through with the work stoppage.
Date: Dec. 1
Action: Two-day informational picket
The details: Unionized Reuters employees held a two-day informational picket outside the “Reuters NEXT” global forum on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Midtown Manhattan. The union passed out leaflets to people around the venue and demanded company management reach a contract deal “swiftly,” according to a release from the NewsGuild of New York, which represents the Reuters union. The picket came a few weeks after 81% of membership voted in favor of a strike authorization. It also followed a one-day walkout of roughly 300 employees across Reuters’ U.S. bureaus on Aug. 4. It was the first walkout at the company in over 30 years. The union says it has gone three years without a general wage increase. Dec. 15 will be two years since its last contract.
Outcome: No contract yet. Negotiations with management resumed on Dec. 6.
Date: Nov. 28
The details: On the night of Cyber Monday, 150 Hearst Magazines employees and supporters gathered in front of Hearst Tower to rally for their first contract. Their main grievance was wage increases. The union has been bargaining over its contract for two years.
Outcome: Still no contract deal.
Date: Nov. 4
Action: One-day strike
The details: More than 200 Gannett staffers across 14 newsrooms staged a one-day work stoppage strike to push for better wages and benefits, as well as protest the cost-cutting that has led to layoffs and furloughs. A number of other employees staged pickets in their cities. This came after a few unionized Gannett employees protested outside Citi’s Global Technology Conference in New York City to get the attention of Gannett CEO Mike Reed at the conference in Midtown Manhattan in September. Reed told protestors at that time that he expected contract settlements with the union by the end of this year.
Outcome: No contract has been agreed upon yet.
Date: Oct. 18
The details: Newsroom employees at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (101 journalists represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh) voted on Oct. 18 to authorize “an unfair labor practice strike” against the company.
Outcome: Union members are still on strike. The union met with company representatives on Dec. 6 for the third time and will meet again on Dec. 20. Workers say they will not end the strike until certain demands are met, including restoring health insurance for workers in certain departments and reinstating conditions of the previous contract until a new agreement is reached.
Date: Oct. 7
Action: Threatening to strike
The details: All 40 writers and editors at Vox Media’s The Dodo threatened to go on strike, signing a pledge to do so if an agreed-upon contract was not reached by the time it expired at the end of October. Over 3,700 people signed letters sent to Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff, demanding a fair contract. The letter campaign was supported by the largest federation of unions in the country, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, as well as the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees and the New York City Central Labor Council.
Outcome: The union ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement on Oct. 31. It was The Dodo’s second collective bargaining agreement and the first with parent company Vox Media.
What we’ve heard
“TikTok is still very valuable, but YouTube is king. People are watching [YouTube] on their TVs so you get longer watch time[s] and then [now with the added] benefit of the short [form video] is just an absolute massive advantage.”– Noah Weissman, evp of content at Team Whistle on why his team is investing more resources into producing original YouTube Shorts.
3 Questions with The Wall Street Journal’s senior platform editor Julia Munslow
For many legacy publishers, having a TikTok channel is part of an effort to reach young people who are mostly getting their news from social media. It’s also a way to familiarize them with the publication and its reporting. The Wall Street Journal joined these efforts when it launched its TikTok channel on Oct. 3. So far, it has 35,000 followers, and its videos have received more than 500,000 likes on the platform.
A key part of the Journal’s TikTok strategy is to capture original content from its live events that fit into its main themes of careers, personal finance and tech. Digiday spoke with The Wall Street Journal’s senior platform editor Julia Munslow to hear more about this.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Are most of The Wall Street Journal’s TikTok videos associated with specific articles?
Some of them, yes. We’ll [often] include an article screenshot [for] some of them. [For] others — we went out to our Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach [in October]. I was able to be onsite with another member of our social team. There, we were able to produce original content for TikTok where we were talking to some of our speakers or high profile guests.
For example, [we interviewed] Phil Spencer, who is Microsoft’s CEO of gaming. He had finished his talk at Tech Live and [we] asked him some questions that we thought would be more relevant to the TikTok audience. Like, “what’s your career advice?” Given that [Spencer] started as an intern at Microsoft and now considering he’s a CEO, his career trajectory is really something that we thought the TikTok audience would find interesting.
So you’re taking advantage of The Wall Street Journal’s live events as an opportunity to produce content for the TikTok channel. Why is that a focus?
We are really still in an experimental period right now and these events are a great opportunity for us to really introduce what the Journal does to this new audience on TikTok. And so far, I think it’s been a huge success. We saw over 1.5 million video views across all of our Tech Live content. We also saw over 1.2 million video views across our WSJ Magazine Innovators event. And that includes all of that original content I was speaking about… We’re hoping to have even more content that we’re able to produce at these events.
How do you collaborate with the live journalism team to capture video at the events? Are there conversations beforehand to make sure there’s time at the event to pull guests away to interview them?
The live journalism team really understands the importance of our social storytelling strategy… We have planning meetings before we go into these events. We work with them to make sure that there is time for us to talk to these people. And they have also been great about giving us the freedom to try to pitch interviews if we happen to run into them on the spot.
Numbers to know
12%: The percentage of BuzzFeed Inc.’s workforce, just under 180 people, that it plans to lay off, primarily from the sales, tech, studio production, BuzzFeed.com and Complex Networks teams.
~200: The number of employees that Gannett is planning to lay off in this latest round of cost-cutting, representing about 6% of its 3,440-person U.S.-based team.
1,202: The number of U.S. local news outlets that are funded by partisan organizations, including Metric Media and The American Independent.
6%: The percentage increase year over year in publishers’ circulation on Apple News+ as of the first half of 2022.
3: The number of shows that The New York Times had in Apple’s list of the top 10 U.S. podcasts for 2022.
92.1%: The percentage share of commercial radio newsrooms’ employees who are white.
What we’ve covered
BuzzFeed, Hearst, other publishers, replace lavish holiday parties with more subdued celebrations:
- The media holiday party may be becoming a bygone of the pre-pandemic era, as some publishers opt for alternative end-of-year affairs.
- BDG, BuzzFeed, Hearst and The Washington Post will host in-person events for employees to celebrate in the form of team-specific outings, award shows and festivals.
Read more about publishers’ alternative holiday plans here.
How Fandom’s first-party data, FanDNA, is expanding to improve recommendations for advertisers and audiences:
- On the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, Stephanie Fried, CMO of Fandom, discussed how her team started categorizing its first-party data into four, affinity-based groups to help clients understand where to invest and how to best reach their target audiences.
- Fandom’s plethora of user generated content and community boards have also lended itself to the company’s first-party data collection.
Hear more about the publishers’ first-party data strategy here.
The case for and against publishers continuing holiday-specific commerce coverage post-Black Friday weekend:
- With less than three weeks left before the holiday gifting season abruptly ends, how publishers approach the final stretch of their commerce content strategies could be the difference between exceeding this quarter’s revenue goals over meeting them.
- Not all publishers or commerce writers will remain focused on producing holiday commerce content, however.
Read more about publishers’ late-Q4 commerce strategies here.
What we’re reading
Puck wants to build a business by covering power and wealth from the inside:
Built on a similar model as Substack, journalists aren’t only salaried, but are compensated with equity stake in the company and receive bonuses based on their subscriber numbers, reported The New Yorker. Some writers earn between $300,000 and $400,000 per year.
The Washington Post folds its external ad tech business:
The Post will stop licensing its Zeus ad tech software to outside publishers and limit the tech stack to its own advertising business, according to Axios. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that the news publisher is looking to sell off its publishing software business Arc XP.
Semafor’s climate editor exits over Chevron sponsorship:
Semafor’s climate and energy editor Bill Spindle left the news publication and called out Chevron’s controversial sponsorship of Semafor’s climate coverage, though Semafor claims the sponsorship had nothing to do with Spindle’s departure, according to The Wrap.
Journalists can’t quit Twitter:
Advertisers may be avoiding Twitter at the moment, but journalists are having a hard time stepping away from the platform, which remains a central artery for the news industry and an avenue for reporters to connect with sources and readers, according to Vox.
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