"It's become apparent that no corporation or CEO is going to save local news, it's up to journalists to preserve our industry and our democracy," said unionized journalists at The Arizona Republic.
As shareholders gathered at the annual meeting of Gannett, the largest newspaper company in the United States following a 2019 merger, hundreds of unionized employees from across the country walked off the job on Monday to demand investors take action against what the journalists say is corporate greed at the top of the organization.
The journalists, who are represented by the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America (CWA), say CEO and chairman Mike Reed has overseen the gutting of local newsrooms across the country at Gannett's more than 300 publications, jeopardizing readers' access to local news and threatening the livelihoods of reporters while Reed collects a multi-million-dollar salary.
With the walkout, the unionized employees are calling on shareholders to hold a no-confidence vote against Reed.
In a letter to investors last month, the NewsGuild-CWA argued that Reed has "failed shareholders" by taking on debt with high interest rates when Gannett merged with GateHouse Media in 2019.
While taking home a $7.7 million salary in in 2021 and $3.4 million last year, Reed has "maintained a compensation policy that is forcing many of our journalists to seek work elsewhere," the union wrote.
"From a shareholder perspective, these cuts to local news reporters and local news don't just weaken civil society, they diminish the future of that company in the community."
"He has reduced local content by relying on wire service and regional stories [and] cut newsroom staff," the NewsGuild said. "As a result, our communities are not being served and our employees are demoralized. Therefore, we believe it is time for a change in leadership: a clear vote of no-confidence in a guy who has weakened our company, forsaken the towns and cities where we have outlets, and impoverished shareholders."
In order to cut costs to service the company's debt, The New York Times reported Monday, Gannett has cut its workforce nearly in half since 2019. The Austin American-Statesman now has 41 newsroom employees, down from 110 before the merger. The Milwaukee Sentinel's staff has been cut from 104 to 83 in that time period; The South Bend Tribune's was cut from 45 to just 14 in South Bend, Indiana; and The Arizona Republic in Phoenix has cut its workforce from 140 to 89.
Gannett has also closed dozens of newspapers entirely, including six weekly publications in the Akron, Ohio area this past February and four papers in Northern Kentucky last year.
Cost-cutting measures have left readers of The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York without a business section; The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida without dedicated reporters focusing on the environment or city government; and just one reporter at TheAmerican-Statesman covering issues related to City Hall, Travis County, transportation, and public safety.
"We know what happens to communities when the light from news outlets dims,"
said the NewsGuild last month. "Political extremism can surge, corruption has fewer watchdogs, high school sports have fewer chroniclers, corporate misconduct has fewer witnesses, and municipal borrowing costs can rise. From a shareholder perspective, these cuts to local news reporters and local news don't just weaken civil society, they diminish the future of that company in the community."
The shareholder meeting and walkout come five months after Gannett laid of 6% of its 3,440-employee media division.
Richard Ruelas, a columnist at The Arizona Republic, organized a crowd-sourced fundraiser to support employees as they stage the walkout, which they plan to continue on Tuesday at the newspaper.
While cutting jobs across the company, said the
Arizona Republic Guild, Gannett officials have refused to provide remaining journalists with fair wages and working conditions.
\u201cGannett claims it's going to "save journalism." We're not sure how overworking and underpaying journalists accomplishes that goal.\n\nIt's become apparent that no corporation or CEO is going to save local news, it's up to journalists to preserve our industry and our democracy.\u201d— Arizona Republic Guild \ud83c\udf35 (@Arizona Republic Guild \ud83c\udf35) 1685630391
"After over three years of bargaining and repeated unfair labor practices, it's also become apparent that asking nicely isn't going to get us fair wages, benefits and protections for our newsroom, and that Gannett has no intention to bargain over these issues in good faith,"
said the union.
According to Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, Reed oversaw a "complete farce" at the shareholder meeting on Monday, ending the conference after just eight minutes and refusing to take questions.
"What a complete joke. Mike Reed needs to go,"
said Schleuss. "He has no ability to lead Gannett and no ability to be accountable to journalists or shareholders."