IBT Media’s purchase of Newsweek seems to be off to an inauspicious start. The Newspaper Guild has accused the digital publishing company of “illegally muzzling” its employees by “prohibiting its journalists and other employees from discussing their working conditions or criticizing their employer,” in violation of U.S. labor law. The guild, which represents editorial employees at Newsweek and its former online counterpart The Daily Beast, said it filed an unfair labor practice charge Sept. 18.
Peter Szekely, secretary-treasurer of the guild, said the charge stemmed from offers IBT extended to four Newsweek employees in which the company spelled out its policy stating that employees couldn't discuss their pay with coworkers or criticize the company. "That flies right in the face of U.S. labor law, which allows employees to do all those things in the course of bargaining," he said.
IBT's PR firm Edelman released this statement in response to the charge: "We are reviewing the complaint carefully. It always has been our goal to create a positive working environment for all our employees. We value our relationship with our employees and will take action to ensure that they’re treated fairly."
IBT was little-known in publishing circles when it emerged as a buyer of the zombie online-only newsweekly last month; its flagship is International Business Times, which claims a reach of 13 million monthly unique visitors. At the time of the sale, its founders effused about Newsweek’s “brand cachet” and “thought-provoking coverage” and talked of applying their digital know-how to expand the brand on the Web.
The ball is now in the NLRB’s court to investigate the guild's accusation and if it decides, file a complaint, similar to an indictment, against the company. The alleged misdoings are only the latest insult for the once-proud Newsweek, which has seen three ownership changes in three years, first sold by The Washington Post Co. to audio bigwig Sidney Harman, who later combined it with IAC’s The Daily Beast. After a tumultuous run under editor Tina Brown, IAC folded the print edition late last year. Newsweek’s staff has dwindled to about 20 from around 150 in 2010.