Truthout’s Union: New Media and the Labor Movement

Truthout(Photo: Alvaro Canivell / Flickr; Edited: Lance Page / Truthout)Editor’s Note: From the beginning of our original organizing effort, Truthout’s union representative, Shannon Duffy, has supported Truthout staff throughout the unionizing process. He continues to guide our members towards solidifying our groundbreaking contract as the first online-only media organization to be unionized. – Sari Gelzer (Unit Chair)

The recently completed contract talks with Truthout mark the end of a rather eventful year at one of our Guild’s newest bargaining units. And Truthout’s staff – union and nonunion alike – are to be congratulated for hanging in there and reaching a tentative agreement. All that remains now is for the tentative agreement to be distributed to the membership and a ratification vote to be held (and a special shout out to Guild Rep. Jay Schmitz for the vital role he played in shepherding the process along).

When workers at Truthout voted (almost unanimously) to join our union, the online publication was in dire straights. Their former director had departed, leaving a broken budget and a trail of debt that demanded immediate attention. Painful belt tightening then ensued. Truthout’s new director makes less than one quarter of the previous director’s salary, and she has ended the practice of having mostly independent contractors perform full-time work for the web site. All employees of Truthout are actually employees – meaning they are entitled to negotiated benefits including health care and retirement. Along with employee status comes the fact that everyone also now earns a living wage.

Truthout has changed in other ways, too. No longer does the site mostly repost articles from other sources; instead, the publication now generates most of its own content. As a result, relationships with other media – print and digital – have been repaired and strengthened. And it is here, I believe, where Truthout’s association with the Guild – and its Principles of Professionalism and Honesty in the News Media – can be highly beneficial (are you listening, other online publications?). No matter how the delivery system morphs or evolves, the ability to tell a truthful, compelling story is something that will always be in demand. Our union has decades of experience with issues that challenge that ability – whether it be setting a standard for quality journalism or defending free speech in newsrooms, in courtrooms and in the hearing rooms of Washington, DC. Such experience and first amendment expertise are key assets for any media entity, and for those with whom we have a relationship, are theirs for the asking.

Since its unionization and reorganization, Truthout has worked hard to uphold and even strengthen its integrity. It has launched an internship program to help support new reporters and editors, and its recent investigative reports – related to oil drilling, for example – have been garnering high marks by mainstream media. For that – and more – this plucky publication deserves to survive and prosper. It’s been an eventful year, and I commend Truthout for living its values of accountability and transparency.

Truthout’s Union Members belonging to The Newspaper Guild – Communication Workers of America Local 36047 include: Jason Leopold, William Rivers Pitt, Mark Karlin, Leslie Thatcher, Sari Gelzer, Matt Renner, Annie Stoddard, Joshua Jacobo, Kendel Gordon, Alexa deMonterice, Lance Page, Jared Rodriguez.