Nationwide unrest is sweeping through the U.S. newspaper industry as journalists, under the banner of the NewsGuild-CWA, are taking to the streets in protest of corporate cuts and management practices. The walkouts are primarily aimed at Gannett, America’s largest newspaper chain, and have occurred in multiple states, impacting many local newspapers.
The catalyst for this strike lies in frustrations with Gannett’s leadership and their severe cost-cutting measures, which include forced furloughs, closure of newsrooms, and the suspension of 401(k) contributions. Gannett’s CEO, Mike Reed, has borne the brunt of criticism for his leadership since Gannett’s 2019 merger with GateHouse Media. The merger, which led to significant layoffs, is perceived as a period of turmoil and has resulted in the company’s shares dropping by over 60%.
NewsGuild-CWA has made allegations of widespread mismanagement, arguing that Gannett’s leadership has prioritized managing a considerable debt load over maintaining its newsrooms and coverage. Doing that has resulted in a severe reduction of Gannett’s workforce, with certain newspapers experiencing a decline of up to 90% in the number of employees. Moreover, some news outlets have abandoned local coverage, shifting their focus to regional news or narrowing their reporting beats.
At the heart of this issue is the discrepancy between CEO and employee pay. The NewsGuild has called for a reduction in the CEO-to-employee pay ratio from 66:1 to a more equitable 20:1. This demand follows revelations that while the median salary for Gannett employees in 2022 was $51,035, Reed’s total annual compensation stood at nearly $3.4 million.
Despite the walkouts and protests, Gannett has maintained a confident stance. Their Chief Communications Officer, Lark-Marie Anton, said the company disagreed with the union’s recommendation to vote against Reed and continues to negotiate fairly with striking newsrooms.
This nationwide unrest has occurred alongside an ongoing, indefinite strike at Insider Inc. by the Insider Union, further highlighting the growing discontent in the U.S. media industry. The struggle between Gannett and its employees underscores the challenges faced by traditional newspapers in the digital age as they attempt to balance cost-saving measures with the preservation of local news coverage. As the strike unfolds, the broader implications for the future of local journalism remain uncertain.