Something really strange is going on at the Los Angeles Times and it has nothing to do with the local, national or international stories their reporters are covering. Recently, the staff at the paper voted to unionize, joining the NewsGuild. Given the liberal zeitgeist in both the editorial offices and newsrooms of most large papers, including the Times, you might think this would have been a popular decision (a subject we’ll circle back to in a bit). But instead, as reported in the Washington Post this week, the owners of the LA Times and a number of other newspapers began making some curious moves which have been described as building a separate, non-union newsroom composed of an army of scabs.
After decades of successful resistance by management and years of demoralizing cutbacks, the Times’s journalists voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize. Before bargaining can begin, however, reporters are concerned about a plan by the Times’s management to reorganize the way the paper produces news.
Under a new “pyramid” structure proposed this month, a network of nonstaff contributors would produce the bulk of the information the Times publishes online. Reporters say the paper has quietly begun hiring a cadre of editors to supervise the reorganization, which would effectively create a new company within the company…
The state of play at the Times, as well as the existential dread swirling around it, was neatly summarized in a tweet this week by Matt Pearce, a Times national reporter and an organizer of the union effort: “Basically, anything could happen at this point at the L.A. Times and people in the newsroom could only be half surprised by it. We’re hiring [editors] that aren’t being announced to the newsroom, our publisher wants to turn us into a pyramid, and by the way, he’s under investigation.”
You might think that current labor laws would hinder the paper from hiring a bunch of non-union editors and reporters as soon as the union moved in, and normally you would be right. But in this case, all of these new hires (who in most cases were never even introduced to the existing staff) don’t actually work for the newspaper. They are employed by a separate entity, that being the business end of the organization known as TRONC, which is short for Tribune Online Content. The established crop of reporters and editors all still work for The Los Angeles Times LLC. In other words, the company isn’t filling up the newspaper with non-union employers. They’re hiring them to work for the management company and potentially making the jobs of the union reporters obsolete.
Others in the media have been expressing their shock and horror to some of these maneuvers on social media. I noticed Buzzfeed writer Doree Shafrir commenting on Twitter about how the rank and file reporters were losing control of the newspaper’s
She was referring to this article from HuffPo which included the ouster of newly unionized staff from control of some of the paper’s Twitter accounts.
Last week, Dan Strauss, senior vice president and general manager for entertainment and lifestyle, met with a group of entertainment section editors. Strauss, who works at the Times under the Tronc business side, introduced several of the editors to Christina Schoellkopf, who is listed internally as a senior social media manager and who Strauss said would be running the entertainment social channels on a day-to-day basis. Schoellkopf, however, had been hired under NewCo, meaning she was technically a business employee and reported directly to a business manager.
While it was probably designed to send a message or keep control of the narrative (possibly both), there’s likely not much the staff can say about that. After all, we’re not talking about their personal Twitter accounts, but the ones with the name of the newspaper on them. This is a subject familiar to everyone in the media at all levels, or so I would imagine. When I tweet on my personal account, I may get off into any number of tangents and occasionally include ill-advised or intoxicated comments. That’s on me, since that account represents my opinions only and does not reflect the opinions or policy of Hot Air or Salem Media. But if I suddenly launched into a diatribe on the official Hot Air account I’d probably be getting a phone call in short order. The owners decide who manages those accounts, not the staff.
But as I alluded to above, we should find it interesting that these developments at the LA Times are playing out in such a fashion. The Times, as with the majority of bigger newspapers, is heavily and unapologetically liberal in their leanings, both on the editorial board and in the newsroom. This means they generally support the Democrats. Similarly, the Democrats are big fans of the unions who fund most liberal political campaigns in a massive fashion. Hence, the newspapers tend to be big fans of the unions and publish pro-union propaganda on a regular basis.
That is… until the union comes knocking on the newspaper’s door. Once they established a toehold at the Times, the company quickly moved to quarantine the union infection and establish a firewall between unionized workers and the ruling establishment. If you don’t smell at least a hint of hypocrisy in this story you need to get your nose checked.