Journalists at the Austin American-Statesman and its six community newspapers announced Wednesday they are taking steps to unionize, following in the footsteps of newspapers around the country that have organized in recent years.
A "vast majority" of the papers' reporters, photographers, columnists and other employees asked Gannett, the Statesman's parent company, to voluntarily recognize the Austin NewsGuild, according to a news release.
The Austin NewsGuild also submitted the required paperwork to the National Labor Relations Board to request a union certification election at the Statesman. If Gannet voluntarily recognizes the union, no election would be needed.
Gannett has not yet responded. However, recent union pushes at other newspapers owned by the company have been stonewalled, according to reports.
The NewsGuild cited a need for stability in "an increasingly unstable industry, one plagued by budget cuts, layoffs, a lack of diversity and dwindling resources," in the release. Its members pledged to advocate for increased staff positions, improved benefits and anti-racist policies.
"We want to play a strong role in reshaping the business and hope to lend our creative energy and responsible input toward collectively joining with management to make the paper better on a daily basis for our valued readers," sports columnist and 47-year Statesman veteran Kirk Bohls said in a statement.
News of the union effort was met with support on Twitter from fellow Austin journalists, Council Members Greg Casar and Natasha Harper-Madison, and other newspaper unions.
GO AUSTIN, GO!! We stand with you and are so excited for y’all! We hope @Gannett does the right thing and volunta… https://t.co/NWgX2N4L1f— Fort Worth NewsGuild ☀️ (@Fort Worth NewsGuild ☀️)1607523620.0
The Austin NewsGuild joins other guilds across the country that have unionized newsrooms in recent years, including at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Arizona Republic.
The Dallas Morning News staff voted to unionize in October, becoming the first newspaper in Texas to do so. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff announced it had unionized shortly after.
Like many of these papers, the Statesman has faced years of downsizing, hiring freezes and, most recently, furloughs during the pandemic. It has also endured a series of corporate handoffs—three in as many years.
Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises sold the Statesman to the New York-based publishing company GateHouse Media in 2018, after 41 years of ownership. Last December, GateHouse closed its $1.1 billion takeover of Gannett, becoming the country's largest newspaper company, and pledged to cut costs.
Gannett laid off seven Statesman staffers, including veteran sportswriter Suzanne Halliburton and culture critic Joe Gross, in April.
Three months later, the company signed a lease at MetCenter, a corporate business park that the Statesman will move into next year. Its iconic riverfront headquarters will be redeveloped.
Then in October the company reportedly offered employees voluntary buyouts.
Melissa Taboada, who worked as a reporter at the Statesman for more than 20 years, announced she had taken a buyout last month.
"I still want to be a journalist," she told the Columbia Journalism Review. "But I've done this for a really long time and seeing the shrinking newsroom… I kind of want to be part of something that might be growing instead."
Veronica Serrano, an editorial assistant who has worked at the Statesman for 16 years, said a union is the best way for employees to speak up to the paper's corporate ownership.
"It is unconscionable that in the midst of a pandemic, our company continues to cut staff and forces remaining employees to take on additional responsibilities, many with no additional compensation," she said in a statement. "Having a collective bargaining unit is the only way for us to have a voice to address these and many other grievous wrongs, and will give us a chance to fight for our newsrooms and restore the balance of power for future generations."
Dr. Victor Pickard, a professor of media policy and political economy at the University of Pennsylvania, said this push toward organizing is "a rare glimmer of hope in this really dismal landscape."
Unions at legacy media companies, such as the Statesman, may help counterbalance publishers' singular focus on profit, which often comes at the expense of jobs.
"My general sense is that (unions) are at least slowing down the slide toward dismantling newsrooms," he said.
But unions alone likely won't insulate newspapers from a changing industry. Instead, Pickard said existing newsrooms will need to transition to new business models—like the nonprofit Texas Tribune or low-profit Philadelphia Inquirer—that help lessen commercial pressures.
"If we don't do anything, the market will just drive journalism into the ground," he said.
This story has been updated to include comment from a professor of media policy and political economy.
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It may not come as a surprise that dating app use surged during the pandemic when many had to swap the benefits of in-person dating for on-screen connections. Bumble revenue swelled to $337.2 million in 2020 compared to $275.5 million, Hinge revenue tripled in the same period and Tinder users broke two records from January to March of 2021.
What may be more intriguing, however, is that many apps anticipate more growth into 2022. Hinge expects to double its revenue by the end of 2021, while Tinder has announced several new features to meet new demands in time for what some are calling a "third surge" of COVID-19.
Vaccinated Austinites who had been eager for "Shot Girl Summer"—a season of in-person dating, going out and making up for time lost—may have to get back on the apps, at least partially, as cases rise higher than they've been since February and mask recommendations reenter the picture.
Austin-area resident Chloe Mohr, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, had sometimes used Tinder before the pandemic. While the app wasn't a supplemental replacement for deeper connections during stay-at-home orders, it did help her stay in the dating game and continue meeting new people.
"Using dating apps during the pandemic was easy when wanting something casual or entertaining," Mohr, who now works in marketing, said.
Chloe Mohr turned to Tinder more during the pandemic to stay connected to people. (Chloe Mohr)
Sixty percent of members came to Tinder because they felt lonely and wanted to connect with people, a Tinder study revealed, and chats were 32% longer during the pandemic.
But dating during a pandemic is no walk in the park when there's fear about contracting COVID, Mohr said. She had fears at the beginning
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OkCupid have responded to the new dating criteria, adding vaccination badges to profiles in partnership with U.S. and British governments.
In order to meet the demand for a stricter screening process and the superficial nature of swiping, Tinder has also introduced new features that allow users to add videos to their profiles and chat with others before they've even matched.
The new add-ons could be beneficial for the app as interest continues to swell—Google searches for "dating" have hit a five-year high, according to NPR.
But the future of dating could be vastly different—and stay different—even well into the next decade.
According to a Ypulse study, 43% of dating app users said the apps made them feel less lonely in the pandemic. Even post-pandemic, 40% of Tinder users say they plan on video-chatting with their matches before they meet, and being honest, authentic and respecting boundaries have become big talk on the app in the past year.
While it's unclear how the pandemic will shape dating for good, signs show that Austin residents and those nationwide may lean on dating apps once again if social distancing returns to the norm.
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone wear a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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