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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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."