Reprinted from The High Country News by Ruxandra Guidi on December 24, 2018.
… Today, 137 years after the paper’s founding, its employees have embraced the very philosophy that [Harrison Gray] Otis, [the first publisher of the Los Angeles Times] fought so bitterly: Unionization. Cutbacks over the past two decades have emptied the newsroom, threatening the survival of one of the country’s most widely read legacy papers. The push for unionization could save reporters’ jobs, yes, but backers also hope it’ll help the paper better serve its city at a time of widespread declines in local news coverage.
“For the past 10 years, it’s been the workers, not the owners, who are preserving the legacy of the Los Angeles Times,” the paper’s national reporter, Matt Pearce, told the Columbia Journalism Review, a few months before the union was voted in. “We’re the dominant publication in the most populous, wealthiest state in the country, one that is driving the direction of the country in many ways.”
The city of Los Angeles was defined by its “open shops” — nonunionized workplaces — during the early part of the 20th century, with many crediting them for the fast growth and success of local industries, from manufacturing to film. The Los Angeles Times thrived, too: By 1995, the paper had won its 20th Pulitzer Prize. But as the new millennium dawned, it became clear that the old bonanza years were over. Growth slowed, and the paper’s staff shrank. In 2000, the LA Times announced its sale to media conglomerate Tribune Co. In response, the staff organized for job security and better pay; between 1990 and 2002, journalists tried to start a union six different times. …