Just before DNAinfo announced last month it was purchasing Gothamist, the publication laid off a number of staffers, a bad omen for the joining of two newsrooms, an act which often comes with its own layoffs. And just last week, in fact, there were four more layoffs, according to The New York Times.
Faced with these realities, the editorial staffs of the two publications are making lemonade this week, joining a growing number of publications whose staffs are seeking union recognition. A majority of the 26-person combined editorial employees of the two newsrooms have signed union cards. As with the publications that have come before, DNAinfo and Gothamist’s staffs will be represented by Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE).
“In light of our recent merger, we think that this is the moment to determine fair policies regarding compensation, benefits, termination, severance, and editorial standards,” wrote the organizing committee in a statement. “This will make the newsroom stronger by preserving our unique editorial voices and allowing the company to attract and retain quality journalists, now and into the future.”
The statement continued, “The coverage and commentary we provide our readers can’t be found elsewhere. We’re proud to be the public’s eyes and ears across the neighborhoods we cover.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio certainly agrees, sending out a tweet in support of the staff.
In addition to Gothamist/DNAinfo, WGAE represents staffs at 11 publications, and that’s counting the staffs of 7 Gizmodo Media Group publications as one entity. Just last week, the staff of The Intercept agreed to be represented by WGAE, a move welcomed by editor in chief Betsy Reed, who said in a statement, “We look forward to working with the WGAE, representing members of The Intercept’s editorial staff, toward a collective bargaining agreement.”
The path to recognition for DNAinfo and Gothamist staff is not as clear. Before today’s vote, management tried to dissuade staff from making such a move, according to the Times:
An email sent to the staff on Tuesday from Dan Swartz, the company’s chief operating officer, said that DNAinfo has lost money every month since it began in 2009 and that it was supported solely by [owner Joe] Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade.
“The vast majority of this investment has gone toward paying our salaries and benefits,” Mr. Swartz wrote. “And here’s another fact: Mr. Ricketts has never taken a dime out of the business.”
Mr. Swartz said he wondered if the unionizing effort could end up closing the site.
“At some point, the business needs to be profitable or the investor calls it quits,” he wrote. “Would a union be the final straw that caused the business to be closed? I don’t know.”