This Prospect story of how the owners of the Cleveland Plain Dealer hate the Newspaper Guild so much that they half killed the paper of one of the nation’s most important cities is just infuriating. The Guild was very strong at the Plain Dealer for a half-century. And ownership today just couldn’t abide it. The whole thing is an outstanding piece of journalism. Here’s the conclusion:
The Newhouse model of union busting and profit extraction dates back just as long, and it has been studiously copied by a new vanguard of financial newspaper owners. GateHouse Media, which recently purchased Gannett and is the largest newspaper chain in America, is operated by private equity firm Fortress Investment Group. GateHouse immediately announced its intention to cut $300 million a year from its budget, which likely means firing journalists and support staff. Hedge fund Alden Global Capital has slashed its 12 unionized outlets to one-third the staff they had in 2012. Alden appears more concerned with redeveloping newspaper and printing offices through its real estate affiliates than reporting the news.
The worry is that every newspaper owner is a budding S.I. Newhouse. At the Press Club of Cleveland forum, a reporter asked Quinn why the Newhouse family, worth $18 billion, is so focused on penny-pinching. “One of the ways they got to be people that have that much money is to not run money-losing businesses,” Quinn said. “This isn’t a charitable organization. This is a business. It’s always been a business. They started 100 years ago.”
The recent growth of unions at online platforms and a few local papers suggests that journalists are perhaps beginning to understand that unions not only help them as workers, but might help bring new life to the industry. But amidst the economic fallout of a global pandemic, the crisis for local news and mass media alike has intensified. For individual journalists, the loss of a job—when for so many it means switching professions—can mean the loss of an identity.
“You know,” Spector told me, “to this day, I have newsroom dreams pretty much every night. Yeah, I do. It never leaves you.”