The campaign ranges from public protests to filing National Labor Relations Board charges to enlisting political support and even, at one point, an offer of 20 percent pay cuts for all staffers in order to prevent a 50 percent job cut. El Diario’s owners flatly rejected that.
The union’s crusade is important not just because it would save newspaper jobs, but because it would prevent decimation of the leading voice and information source-including the print edition and the website-for the two-million-plus Hispanics and Hispanic-Americans in the Big Apple, as well as for the rest of the Hispanic-American community nationwide.
The latest fracas occurred over the last two months, when El Diario’s parent company, ImpreMedia-itself now a subsidiary of Argentina’s leading daily, La Nacion-arbitrarily announced it would lay off 13 El Diario newsroom staffers.
The paper’s newsroom staff was cut to 11, News Guild President Peter Szekely, a former and longtime national labor reporter for Reuters, told the New York City Council. The New York Post added only two of the 11 would be full-timers.
The real impact is on the quality of news the Spanish-speaking community receives, Szekely said.
“Where only a few years ago, the paper was filled with local stories the larger main-stream press wasn’t covering, today it is just a shadow of its former self,” he testified. “The paper that calls itself ‘The Champion of the Hispanics’ is today filled with stories aggregated from wire services and other people’s reporting. The same goes for the El Diario website.
“Last summer, one of our members who left El Diario“-before the latest cuts-“told us: ‘I did not become a reporter to cut and paste from other websites.'”
El Diario’s owners say the latest layoffs, on top of buyouts two years ago, and the firing of eight other Guild members in 2014, were needed to stem the paper’s losses. They claim the losses were down to $2 million in 2015, from $12 million yearly when they took over, and they expect to break even this year. The National Labor Relations Board later ruled the 2014 firings broke labor law.
Szekely rebutted the cut-losses-by-firings argument by saying that studies show many newspapers have made that mistake and that “it isn’t just bad public policy, it’s bad business.” Other studies, including an analysis at a recent News Guild convention, show readers are willing to pay a premium price for a quality newspaper or newspaper website.
Szekely admitted the La Nacion-owned papers in the U.S., including El Diario, “are private enterprises that need to turn a profit.
“But while it’s not written into their charters, they also assume the position of public trusts,” he said. “The foreign language press is a pipeline to the city’s immigrant communities. They bring to readers news that often can’t be found elsewhere…in the language they are most comfortable with.
“Since an informed citizenry is essential to a free society, the press provides a public service,” Szekely explained. “It is therefore morally incumbent on the owners of these vital enterprises to continue to do all that they can to continue to inform their readers and it is equally incumbent upon government to do all it can to support these enterprises.”
The city council took no action on that implied News Guild request, but several council members joined Szekely in a pro-El Diario press conference on the City Hall steps after the council hearing.
The Guild Reporter contributed the verbatim transcript of Szekely’s testimony.