ORLANDO, Fla. –After almost eight decades as The Newspaper Guild, delegates to the union’s convention voted January 17 to officially change its name to The NewsGuild. Earlier, they re-elected President Bernie Lunzer, a name change advocate, without opposition.
Most of the 88 delegates meeting in Orlando, Fla., agreed the name change would help the union, now a Communications Workers sector, appeal to a wider range of workers involved in news and communications – regardless of which medium they use to receive it.
The name change also came after an intense and intensive prior lecture from a leading financial analyst of the newspaper industry, Ken Doctor, a former manager at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, whom Lunzer jousted with years ago during his local service in the Twin Cities.
Doctor predicted printed newspapers would disappear before mid-century, but online versions would burgeon. One difficulty, he said, is garnering ad revenue for those versions. Subscribers, he noted, will pay higher prices for high-quality news feeds and analysis. But those subscribers, like newspaper readers, are older and whiter than the U.S. in general.
Delegates felt a name change would help organize news workers in a changed news-gathering environment. “Having been engaged in organizing, a name change holds onto our brand and history, while reflecting changes in the industry. It makes more sense as we explain ourselves to others,” said Beth Kramer of Chicago Local 34071, the youngest delegate.
The NewsGuild represents not just newspaper workers, but union staffers, workers at non-profit organizations, translators, union organizers such as Kramer and free-lance writers.
“We have a diverse unit and it has been helpful going forward” to remove the word ‘newspaper’ from their local’s name, said Jeff Gordon of Local 36047, the St. Louis-based United Media Guild. His local has added units at the online publication Truthout and in Peoria, Pekin, Rockford and Springfield, Ill. Added John Hill of Providence, R.I., Local 31041: “Just because we take ‘newspaper’ out of our name doesn’t mean we take it out of our history.”
The only voiced dissent came from Denver Local 37074 members. Norma Ruth Ryan rattled off a list of media firms – most of them with just the word “news” in their names and most of them held in low regard, such as Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Those firms produce “the kind of garbage I don’t want to listen to,” she said. “We have many challenges to organizing, but our name is not one of them,” added Denver’s Robert Lindgren.
Besides approving the name change, and hearing from Gordon and CWA President Larry Cohen, delegates approved several resolutions, including:
To “engage in the struggle to save our free press and public access to information” through both the union’s righttoreport website and through members’ efforts. The resolution follows government attempts – from the Obama administration down to local police forces – to censor or deny access to news and news gatherers, and to prosecute whistleblowers. The resolution also calls for a federal shield law against prosecutorial fishing expeditions that go after reporters, their sources and their notes.
Condemning the capture, killing and jailing of journalists worldwide. Between 61 and 80 were murdered last year “for doing their jobs,” including James Foley, whom the so-called Islamic State beheaded. Governments jailed another 220 in each of the last three years. And the week before, Islamic terrorists deliberately murdered eight Paris journalists, the staff of Charlie Hebdo, because their satirical magazine allegedly defamed the Prophet Mohammed.
“We must loudly condemn all acts of journalistic oppression,” it said, and “condemn and shame countries that permit terrorists to capture and kill journalists with impunity.”
Urging law-enforcement agencies to “gather, maintain and report statistics about officer-caused deaths and injuries.” The resolution cited the deaths of unarmed African-Americans as reasons to gather such data. It backed that with national statistics. The deaths have produced controversy and marches nationwide. The resolution also urges news organizations to report the data annually.
Urging President Obama to commute the life sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rico-born Chicago community organizer convicted in 1981 of seditious conspiracy and related offenses. His co-defendants have since been released from prison, but, at 72, he’s still incarcerated. His release has become a cause célèbre for elected officials from various states, international organizations, several unions and the AFL-CIO – as well as TNG-CWA Local 33225 of San Juan. The Rivera case produced the longest debate and only conclave rollcall.
Constitutional changes to reflect increased independence of TNG-CWA/SCA Canada.
Besides re-electing Lunzer, delegates elected Buffalo TNG-CWA rep Marion Needham as Executive Vice President, combining her position with that of Secretary-Treasurer. Sara Steffens, a former TNG activist who organized for the Guild in San Jose – and who was illegally fired for doing so – has been acting as Secretary-Treasurer.
Steffens stepped down from the TNG-CWA post to seek the Secretary-Treasurer’s job of the parent CWA, running with union Vice President/Executive Board member Chris Shelton. He’s running to succeed retiring CWA President Cohen.
Photo: Speaking at the convention, NewsGuild-CWA Facebook.