“Journalism is on fire,” says Josh Austin, communications director of the NewsGuild of New York, a national union advocating for the highest standards of living and ethics for journalists. With Trump making policy decisions based on what he heard on Fox & Friends and the current administration slandering other news outlets as “fake news,” it’s no wonder that journalists are fighting to have their voices heard.
But it’s the identities behind those voices that should also be a focus of conversation. The American Society of News Editors reported in 2017 that racial minorities made up only 17 percent of the total newsroom workforces (in online-only news organizations the rates were 24 percent). And among newsroom leaders, the number of people of color was a mere 13 percent.
The NewsGuild, a union for those in the news industry, has been around for 90 years, advocating for work protections, advancing economic interests, and equal opportunities for journalists. The guild’s latest accomplishment was negotiating a contract with The Daily Beast that included language protecting gender expression. In what is (hopefully) a sign of growing acceptance of transgender employees, Austin says NewsGuild experienced virtually no pushback from management on that demand.
According to Mary Beth Seitz-Brown, “Increasingly more people wanting to unionize, want to proactively address gender identity and access to protection and resources that people need if they are trans or gender-nonconforming.” Unions provide a structure that enables workers to demand improvements in gender parity, LGBT family provisions (time off to take care of a newly adopted child, for example), access to gender-neutral bathrooms, and support for those undergoing transitions.
Inclusionary language within the new Daily Beast contracts, which the NewsGuild of New York’s bargaining team and staff helped push through, is one step closer toward helping newsrooms more closely and accurately represent those who they report about — and their readers.
Guild staffers, including Seitz-Brown, help individuals and companies through the process of unionizing. Seitz-Brown works with members every step of the way.
“We’re constantly training people how to organize, how to unionize, how to fight for improvement in the workplace whether before or after the union is formed,” she says. “That process of training never stops.”
Seitz-Brown reminds folks about the importance of unions, and how they have improved working conditions across America — often successfully responding to homophobia, racism, and other injustices in the workplace. She and the local NewsGuild in New York are transforming the union into a vehicle for social change, not just in wages and overtime — though Seitz-Brown acknowledges their importance — but in reducing wage gaps and improving diversity representation in hiring and promotion decisions.