Thursday, August 18, 2016

BREAKING: Newsroom employees at Sarasota Herald-Tribune take steps to unionize after owner Gatehouse Media threatens layoffs

Possible case of too little too late for Sarasota Herald Tribune, too bad. Newsroom employees at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune took steps to unionize Wednesday, August 18th 2016 just days after journalists at a sister publication, the Lakeland Ledger, officially became the first newspaper in modern Florida history to form a newsroom union. The move also comes a day after Gatehouse Media, which owns both papers, announced a round of company-wide buyouts to reduce staff again, with the threat of layoffs if reduction targets aren’t met. The Herald Tribune newsroom has also lost 16 employees since Gatehouse bought the paper in a deal that closed in early 2015, according to union organizers. Leaders of the effort in the newsroom were quick to say that they are not dissatisfied with local management. Rather, they said the union drive reflected concerns that Gatehouse was not supportive of the “impact journalism” the paper has become known for, and they want a seat at the table when future changes are discussed. Staffers in the newsroom had been talking about trying to unionize for “a long time,” and that Tuesday’s buyout announcement was not a factor.

Union cards were delivered to the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, which will trigger a vote by within the next month or so over whether to join The NewsGuild-CWA. Union leaders in Lakeland have also focused their criticisms on Gatehouse, which has sought to cut costs by centralizing functions across its publications. (Some of the job reductions in Sarasota were for roles whose duties have been moved to a centralized design center.) A call for comment to Gatehouse headquarters was not immediately returned. Patrick Dorsey, publisher of the Herald-Tribune, said in an email that he is “very disappointed some of our newsroom employees decided to go down this road.”  The Gatehouse Media company, part of the publicly traded New Media Investment Group, now owns 125 dailies, including The Columbus Dispatch and The Providence Journal, along with more than 400 weeklies and shoppers. In late July, it bought the Fayetteville Observer, which had been the largest locally owned newspaper in North Carolina. Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, said unions can increase labor expenses for newspaper chains, though unions are less influential today than they have been in the past. “Organizing a Guild and actually getting higher pay and more jobs—that may happen and it may not,” he said. “Established unions don’t always succeed in getting a contract, and they usually keep working rather than try to shut the paper down with a strike.” But he said the efforts at both papers, Herals Tribune and Lakeland Ledger don’t particularly look good for Gatehouse. “I don’t know if this is two in a series of two or two in a series of 12,” he said. “But it’s not a good thing for your business if your journalists are saying, ‘We can’t really serve our community.’” read more at

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