(photo of the C-J build in Louisville by Nyttend [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

How to get banned at the C-J: mention the union drive

Berry Craig
Berry Craig
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By BERRY CRAIG

The truth is supposed to set you free. Trying to tell the truth about the union drive in the Courier-Journal newsroom got me banned as a regular op-ed contributor to Kentucky’s largest paper.

Apparently, the C-J hasn’t printed a word about the drive since it was announced on Aug. 30. (The Falls City broadcast media has been on the story.)

When I updated a Labor Day op-ed piece for the C-J with a single sentence about the drive, the sentence got edited out. After I called attention to the deletion in the comment section below my piece, I got sacked.

My exile is trivial compared to the C-J’s refusal to cover a union organizing campaign under its own roof. But both are disappointing to this longtime C-J fan who has always found the paper’s news coverage, news analysis, and photography to be top-notch. I’ve nearly always agreed with the paper’s editorials; almost without exception, the candidates it endorses are the candidates I support.

The backstory

On Aug. 26, I submitted a piece about the resurgence of union organizing nationwide, citing Louisville as a prime example. Workers in the Falls City were seeking unions at coffee shops and a bookstore.

On the same day, I submitted a similar op-ed to the Lexington Herald-Leader, whose newsroom has been union for years.

I didn't know about the union effort at the C-J until Aug. 30, when I read in a WDRB story online that “fed  up with staff cuts, resignations, and low pay, about 35 newsroom employees at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Courier-Journal announced Tuesday [Aug. 30] that they are unionizing.”

Calling themselves the Courier-Journal Guild, they issued a news release, which WDRB quoted: “Gannett, the company that owns the The Courier-Journal, must be held accountable for the staff bleed during the pandemic and critically low wages at the paper. Thirty-four staffers have left the Courier-Journal over the last two years alone, leaving fewer eyes on community issues that readers care about.”

On Aug. 31, I updated, via email, a Labor Day op-ed piece for the C-J with a single sentence about the drive.

Also on Aug. 31, the C-J informed me that my added sentence, updating the story to include the union at the paper, was a no-go. The sentence got edited out. I opted against asking that the op-ed be spiked because I thought it contained other important information that needed to be published.

Both stories appeared in online editions of both papers on Sept. 2. The Herald-Leader management left in the sentence about the C-J union, which I had emailed to them on August 30.

It wasn’t long before I began hearing from readers, friends, and fellow union members who wanted to know why I failed to mention the Courier-Journal union in my C-J story. I explained that I did cite the union, adding that the C-J removed a sentence telling about it.

So I inserted this in the comments section below my C-J op-ed: “My story contained the following sentence that was deleted: ‘In Louisville, too, approximately 35 Courier-Journal newsroom staffers, calling themselves the Courier-Journal Guild, have announced that they want to join The News Guild-Communications Workers of America Local 34070, the union which represents Indianapolis Star journalists.’”

After I called attention to the deletion by posting that sentence in the comment section below my piece, I got sacked.

It’s no secret that Gannett is less than union-friendly. “Last year, Gannett CEO Mike Reed raked in $7.7 million while the median salary of a Gannett employee was $48,419,” Bob Hennelly wrote in Salon last August. “According to their union [the NewsGuild-CWA], it’s not uncommon for members to have to resort to food pantries to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Gannett spared no expense hiring union-busting attorneys and now has 11 open investigations for unfair labor practices, according to the NLRB website.”

Obviously, I'm not privy to decisions by C-J management. But I’d bet next month's Social Security check that Gannett HQ is putting the squeeze on local C-J brass to maintain radio silence about the union.

The controversy — call it a tempest in a teapot if you will — is entirely of Gannett’s making. A lot of readers probably wouldn’t have noticed the sentence anyway. But Gannett’s heavy-handedness made the paper seem petty and spiteful. The deletion was also more proof, as if it were needed, of the giant media corporation's hostility — bordering on paranoia — toward unions.

Though the zapped sentence in my op-ed was simply a statement of fact rather than opinion, I wholeheartedly support the Courier-Journal Guild. I’m a retiree-member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360. I’m the Kentucky State AFL-CIO webmaster-editor, and I’m on the state executive board.

Too, I was an early signee of an online petition in support of the Courier-Journal Guild. I’ve been encouraging my union brothers and sisters, family members, friends, and others to do likewise.

“We believe that management, staff, and the Louisville community deserve the best possible version of the Courier-Journal, and we believe that the best version of the Courier-Journal is a unionized one,” says the petition.

Amen.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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