Snarky Journalists Have Crude, Wrenching Public Debate About Unionization
Last month, some editorial members of Gawker Media, owner of various web properties including Deadspin, Jezebel, Gizmodo, and of course, Gawker.com, announced they planned to form a union.
Now, with an election scheduled for next week that will decide whether the company will unionize, Gawker writers have made their votes and opinions on the plan public in a post published Thursday. The discussion offers a rare look at how wrenching labor organization can be. Some pro-union writers have been so turned off by the process that they've decided to cast their ballot against unionization efforts.
"I am an avid proponent of unions, a leftist, and am perpetually distrustful of those in power—especially those that hold sway over my own employment," writes Deadspin staff member Kevin Draper. "Yet on June 3rd, I am going to vote against Gawker Media editorial staffers unionizing. That is how f--- up this entire process, from start to apparent finish, has been."
Draper goes on to list a set of grievances that turned him against unionization, including a perceived lack of communication and transparency from union supporters and an election the writer feels was scheduled too soon.
Those issues are echoed by a number of other staffers, including Deadspin columnist Drew Magary, who added that the push toward organization had turned many staffers against one another ("This has created a GALACTIC amount of acrimony within Gawker"). Magary also voiced concerns about the everyday implications of unionization ("I f***ing hate meetings."). Stef Schrader, an editor for Jalopnik, questioned whether a raise that would include union dues could force the company to cut into other benefits. "I don't agree that we need to pay an outside entity to negotiate these things for us," posted Schrader.
Most staff commenters appear to support unionization.
"I am voting yes on the union," wrote Hamilton Nolan, Gawker's longest-tenured writer and a major force behind the drive to organize. "This has been a truly 'grass roots' organizing process in the sense that we’ve been making it all up as we go along. There’s no doubt all the communication efforts have not been perfect. But I really, really hope that everyone will think about the big picture: a vote for this union is a vote for unity. It’s a vote to meld all of our interests together as one. And beyond the practical benefits for us, it's a really important symbolic vote for our entire industry. It’s the first step of a movement that could end up helping a lot of people."
If the pushback against organization by some writers comes as a surprise, it shouldn't. Online media companies, despite being populated by many young city-dwellers who, as a demographic, tend to skew towards the left, have generally been reluctant to unionize. If Gawker does become a union shop, it would be the first major new media company to do so.
Why is the digital press so reluctant to band together? As the Washington Post explained in January, a combination of generational and economic forces tend to make unionization less palatable to online scribes. Younger workers are typically less familiar with unions and more apt to see themselves as personal brands instead of as part of a collective.
Another reason for web media's union-phobia may just be that many journalists don't feel they have it quite so hard. "They tend to think that because of their education and their talent, they don’t need [a union],” said Freddy Kunkle, the co-chair of The Washington Post’s Guild unit, in an interview with the Post. "What they're doing is not coal mining: It’s not dangerous; it’s not dirty. What are they going to get out of it?"