The Newspaper Guild was founded in 1933, by Algonquin round-table member and New York World-Telegram columnist Heywood Broun (1888-1939) as the American Newspaper Guild (ANG). At its inception, the ANG was a “class and craft” union, allowing only those employed in a particular classification; in the ANG’s case, the editorial departments of newspapers (reporters, editors, copyeditors, etc) but quickly became, in 1937, a true “industrial” union when it opened up membership to other groups employed in the newspaper industry – in this case the commercial workers. As if to punctuate just how strongly they believed in industrial unionism, the ANG promptly withdrew from the craft-oriented American Federation of Labor (AFL) and joined up with the recently-formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
Until Heywood Broun, attempts at organizing newspaper reporters had garnered mixed results at best. One of the earlier attempts, the Baseball Reporters Association of America (a forerunner of today’s Baseball Writers Association) was formed in 1887. However that organization was concerned more with baseball issues (they did manage to get standardized scoring) than with workplace issues or matters relating to pay.
Interestingly, one of those earlier endeavors occurred right here in St. Louis. After the turn of the twentieth century there had been much discussion among journalists about organizing. Some – like Upton Sinclair – clamored for “one organization of all men and women who write, print and distribute news to take control and see to it that the newspapers serve public interests,” while others – such as Willard Bleyer, dean of the University of Wisconsin’s school of journalism – argued for a more “professional” organization.
In the summer of 1919 Bleyer’s ideas were put to the test, in St. Louis, with the formation of the American Journalists Association (AJA). That year, about 150 journalists working at the five daily English-speaking papers: the Daily Record, the Globe-Democrat, the Post-Dispatch, the Republic and the Star-Times formed an association which sought “in a dignified manner” to obtain increases in pay but also repudiated any real link to the rest of organized labor, “except as a last resort.” Its president was R.L. Stokes, a music and drama critic of the Post-Dispatch. This early organization boasted “cordial support of the publishers” and included editorial executives in its ranks. It did not affiliate with the AFL.
The St. Louis organization won pay increases and retroactive bonuses and, for a while, looked to be the way to go. However, when that isolated, passive model tried to spread to other cities, publishers decided they didn’t want to deal with them and just ignored the fledging group. Within ten years the AJA faded into oblivion and it can be surmised that the early failures to operate independent of the rest of the labor movement is what finally changed conventional thinking among journalists and ultimately paved the way for a new approach. Enter Heywood Broun:
“The average newspaper man probably works on an eight-hour-a-day and six-day-week basis.... Obviously the publishers, by patting their fathead employees on the head and calling them ‘professionals’ hope to maintain this working week scale. And they’ll succeed, for the men who make up the editorial staffs of the country are peculiarly susceptible to such soothing classifications as ‘professionals,’ ‘journalists,’ ‘members of the fourth estate,’ ‘gentlemen of the press’ and other terms which have completely entranced them by falsely dignifying and glorifying them and their work.”
Broun ended that fateful column by writing:
“But the fact that newspaper editors and owners are genial folk should hardly stand in the way of the organization of a newspaper writers’ union. There should be one. Beginning at 9 o’clock on the morning of October 1, I am going to do the best I can to help in getting one up.”
It didn’t take long. The first local was established in Cleveland. On March 20, 1934, ANG locals were chartered all across the U.S., including St. Louis, which became the 47th local chartered.
Early thinking argued that a union could not survive on the professional side of a newspaper. But Broun turned that thinking on its head by arguing that a union could actually protect that professionalism.
Since its formation, the Guild has waged countless battles for better working conditions and for a quality product and today, in newspapers all across America, many will affirm that Broun was right. While much has changed since 1934, what has not changed is the need for workers to have a voice in their workplace. Indeed, while newspapers have embraced many technological improvements, they have consistently fought attempts by workers to improve their situation. In fact, workers rights and job security today are under constant attack, as reducing the number of employees in all departments seems to be the order of the day. Media conglomerates, no longer content with a mere 10% to 15% on their investment, repeatedly demand returns of 20%, 30%, or even more. All too often, the end result is a paper that cuts out key components to reduce payroll in an almost insane attempt to shrink its way to higher profits. Whenever that happens (and it’s happening more and more) serious issues arise – life-altering issues – and Heywod Broun is once again proven right. And, in those papers fortunate enough to have a Guild, employees collectively push back.
When management cuts staffing levels to the point that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to avoid producing a less-than-stellar product, it’s the Guild’s voice that is heard calling for resources and a renewed commitment to journalistic values. Often, protections are build right into Guild contracts. For example, many Guild contracts contain provisions giving you control of your own byline and preserving reportorial integrity (usually these provisions call for the company to back a reporter who is trying to protect an anonymous source or otherwise stand up for the 1st amendment while in the course of his or her work). Contracts often strive to put limits – though not bans – on the use of non-professional journalists as replacements for professional, trained journalists. There are Guild contracts that include labor-management committees that meet regularly to discuss workplace issues and seek ways outside the traditional grievance route to resolve problems.
Nationally, the Guild has developed and advocates Principles of Professionalism and Honesty in the News Media that not only apply to journalists, but to commercial employees AND management. Recently, the Guild sponsored a survey intended to help define the future of jobs in journalism and from that survey came a conference that included academics, employees and employers who discussed the 21st Century Newsroom. The Guild and its parent union, CWA, take strong stands on national issues relevant to journalism, such as attacks on the 1st Amendment and dilution of cross-ownership restrictions that are likely to lead to less diversity in ownership and fewer media alternatives.
But today’s Guild doesn’t just concern itself with journalism. Guild members, over 30,000 strong, hail from all areas: circulation, prepress, creative, advertising, mailroom…you name it! And Guild members no longer just work at newspapers. Our members work in television, radio, and a variety of other professions; everything from translators to computer programmers and technicians to union staff representatives. The Guild is an eclectic group.
So welcome! We’re glad you’re here. We encourage you to look around, check out our website and explore various links to find out all you can.
To learn more, send us an email to Shannon Duffy, Business Representative at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Mary Casey, Guild Representative, at: email@example.com, or give us a call at 314-241-7046.
(Much of the material here is from “A Union of Indviduals, The formation of the American Newspaper Guild, 1933-1936″ by Daniel J. Leab.)