In what is anticipated to be the largest staff walkout in its history, the leading newspaper chain in the country, Gannett, is bracing for significant disruption to its shareholder meeting.
Calls for new leadership
On Monday, hundreds of journalists employed by Gannett intend to stage a one-day strike during the company’s annual shareholder meeting, with a clear message resonating among them: Gannett requires fresh leadership.
The journalists, represented by the NewsGuild-CWA union, which advocates for over 1,000 employees and multiple bargaining units, are urging shareholders to express a vote of no-confidence against Mike Reed, Gannett’s current chief executive. The NewsGuild contends that Reed’s leadership has resulted in the erosion of newsrooms due to misplaced priorities.
In a scathing statement, Jon Schleuss, President of the NewsGuild, expressed his discontent with Reed’s approach, stating, “Reed shows no concern for a long-term strategy that involves investing in journalists to secure the company’s future.
Our communities rely on robust local news to foster a thriving democracy, but instead of supporting and providing resources to journalists, Reed’s primary focus seems to be personal enrichment. It is evident that Reed has overstayed his welcome at Gannett and must step down.”
The walkout on Monday will witness the participation of 24 Gannett newspapers across seven states, notably including the Arizona Republic, Austin American-Statesman, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and the Palm Beach Post. The NewsGuild-CWA revealed that some newsrooms are prepared to strike for up to two days.
Decline in morale
Morale within Gannett has significantly declined over the past year. In December, the company carried out a series of “incredibly difficult” layoffs, leading to the elimination of hundreds of jobs and targeting a 6% reduction in its news division.
These cuts have come amidst challenging circumstances in the industry. Gannett’s stock price has experienced a substantial decline in recent years due to dwindling print revenue and a weakened advertising market. While Gannett has endeavored to shift its business toward digital subscriptions, these efforts have proven insufficient.
Responding to the allegations raised by the NewsGuild-CWA, Gannett issued a statement on Thursday, acknowledging the industry challenges it faces and strongly contesting the union’s claims.
“During these challenging times for our industry and economy, Gannett remains committed to providing competitive wages, benefits, and meaningful opportunities for all our esteemed employees,” declared a Gannett spokesperson. “Our leadership is dedicated to investing in local newsrooms and leveraging our content. We continue to negotiate fairly and in good faith with the NewsGuild.”
The spokesperson further affirmed that despite the anticipated work stoppage in some markets, Gannett’s content delivery and trusted news coverage would remain unaffected. They emphasized Gannett’s goal of preserving journalism and serving communities nationwide while actively working towards finalizing contracts.
However, reporters leading local unions at Gannett’s newspapers across the country express a divergent viewpoint.
Cheryl Makin, a reporter for Home News Tribune, remarked, “I pour my heart and soul into the work that I do, but passion alone cannot sustain us financially. We need leadership that respects our contributions and provides adequate wages, benefits, and staffing to ensure our long-term effectiveness.”
Kaitlyn Kanzler, a reporter for The Record, added, “The meager compensation we receive forces many of my fellow Gannett colleagues to rely on public assistance or private charity just to make ends meet. This is no way to run a news company.”
The strike represents a pivotal moment for Gannett, as its journalists rally for better conditions, fair compensation, and an affirmation of the critical role local news plays in society.