The Newspaper Guild was founded in a similar
time of change — the early and mid-1930s. It was a
time of desperation and unemployment.
Good journalism was not a priority. Newspapers, however,
were still the dominant channel for information distribution.
Guilds developed all over America because workers understood
it was their best hope to change things for the better. Employers
fought against organizing, but the workers persevered.
Now we are at a new turning point,
where even the term "newspaper" is
an anachronism. But whatever form it takes, information will
be gathered and disseminated. Will it be credible, well-researched
information that makes our culture stronger, better, more
honest? Or will it be entertainment and shock reporting,
always chasing the newest, most provocative child's death
or celebrity meltdown? Will workers be valued and paid or
will they be disposable, contingent and exploited?
The current captains of our industry
have failed. They did not predict where the internet would
take us. They did not invest in new skills and new technologies.
They worked for the profit margin of the next quarter — which
they thought should be somewhere around 25 per cent. When
profits fell below that, they slashed jobs and the quality
of our work.
Others saw the possibilities of free access to our product
and linked their revenue streams to search. Our work was
plundered by them for profit. Still others saw the possibilities
for new ad vehicles and started up the ventures we should
have and could have, but for lack of vision.
The luckiest owners pushed their last burst of creativity
into selling our businesses and getting out while the getting
was good. The debt that was left in their wake is now doing
untold damage to the crippled industry left behind.
So now we are presented with the most serious challenge
of all: While the ground shifts under our feet and we are
overworked, we must fight for creative solutions and for
the heart and soul of our industry. This, while we have been
redefined as a commodity to be slashed by our owners, over
Can we do this? Can we find solutions that preserve quality
information and good jobs? Is there enough time?
We don't have any choice and we don't know how long it will
take. But we'll take the fight.
This business must be reinvented. It's already started and
it's all around us. We must act while our brands and our
web sites still have value. This will require workers working
together in extraordinary ways. We can be major players in
reshaping the news and information industry, and ensuring
that our work is compensated and that we are valued.
Bringing the front-line worker into the business plan is
a key ingredient for those businesses that hope to survive.
It will also mean stripping out unnecessary management positions.
They are not only expensive, but they actually stand in the
way of innovation. Healthy organizations will be diverse,
worker-focused and nimble. Successful organizations will
forge a new relationship with workers.
Why should a union lead the way? What's needed right now
are democratic, value-oriented workplaces. They must be efficient
and tap the greatest potential of their workforce. People
do their best work when they really care about their product.
A union environment is the way to ensure the promises necessary
to make this kind of enterprise work. Owners, managers and
editors who want success should welcome high-participation,
unionized information workers.
Why are we that union? CWA has brought together the best,
most-democratic traditions of broadcast, web and print journalism
by joining with NABET, the ITU and The Newspaper Guild. It
is time to tap the potential of our groups to organize a
new kind of workforce: highly-trained, highly-motivated and
Rather than give up in the face of the current crisis, we
can seize its potential. We represent professional journalists,
salespeople, technicians and graphic designers. We represent
the largest group of unionized web professionals. We understand
the new work and the new worker.
We have the building blocks. But we can no longer simply
rely on the current owners and managers to know what is best
for our organizations. We must insist on building the new
future together -- with our ideas, at the table, as equals.
If we're asked to give up wages to ensure survival, we must
demand in return to have a voice in how the business goes
forward. The information industry can be rebuilt. Our members
have the best ideas for how to rebuild it. I also believe
we can reach out to other workers in the industry and be
the most credible, driving force for a new media industry
in North America.
There's every reason to have hope. But the time is now for
us to act and take on that responsibility. Everything we
know and care about started with an idea and was built on
hard work and shared values. We can do this.