Mediatwits #164: Gawker Formed a Union. Will It Spread to More Digital Media?

    by Jefferson Yen
    June 12, 2015
    Hamilton Nolan, senior writer at Gawker, describes the process of unionizing.

    Last week, Gawker Media employees voted to unionize. It wasn’t close. About 75 percent of votes were in favor of an union. In an unusual move before the vote, Gawker Media encouraged staffers to post in an open forum how they were going to vote and why. Both sides were vocal. But that wasn’t the reason why the vote has been called “historic.” It’s because Gawker is one of the first digital publishers to be union run. That momentum to unionize seems infectious as we learned this week when a group of journalists announced a conference to push unionization in digital media. The group includes journalists Mike Elk and Tim Shorrock. Now that more money is pouring into digital media and the market for writers has stabilized, unions may be gaining momentum, though unions are mostly foreign in the tech world. We’ll talk about Gawker’s union and where it might lead with Jill Geisler at Loyola University Chicago; Hamilton Nolan, senior writer at Gawker; and Peter Sterne, reporter at Capital New York. MediaShift’s Mark Glaser is hosting and Jefferson Yen producing.

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    "Nick [Denton] was great throughout the process. Nobody in management interfered in the union drive." -Hamilton Nolan

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    mark-glaser-ISOJ-headshot-150x150Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is a longtime freelance writer and editor, who has contributed to magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Wired, and Conde Nast Traveler, and websites such as CNET and the Yale Global Forum. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Renee and son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.


    Jill Geisler teaches and coaches news leaders and consults in media organizations worldwide. She holds the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University Chicago. Previously, she spent 16 years guiding the leadership and management programs of the Poynter Institute.

    Hamilton Nolan is a senior writer for Gawker who was involved in the union organizing movement.

    Peter Sterne covers the digital media industry for Capital New York. Before joining Capital, he interned for the New York Observer and the Columbia Journalism Review. A recent graduate of Columbia University, he lives in Brooklyn. Find him on Twitter @petersterne.


    Gawker’s move toward unionization is a sign that digital media has matured as an industry. This couldn’t have happened if the market for young writers hadn’t stabilized. Some are even calling this a boom time for young journalists. In 2014, about 5,000 full-time editorial position were created at digital media outlets according to Pew Research. And with the trend towards mobile, it’s likely more positions will open at digital newsrooms.

    What’s interesting about this situation is that it might lead other online publications to follow suit. Hamilton Nolan, a senior writer at Gawker, wrote as much on the site: “If we can show that [unionization is] possible, I hope that a positive precedent will be set.” But not everyone has backed the union push at Gawker. Deadspin’s Drew Magary wrote “This has created a GALACTIC amount of acrimony within Gawker.”

    Will we see more publishers turn to unions? Are unions a good fit for digital publishers? How will young writers benefit, and could this hurt them in the end?

    Jefferson Yen is the producer for the Mediatwits Podcast. His work has been on KPCC Southern California Public Radio and KRTS Marfa Public Radio. You can follow him @jeffersontyen.

    Tagged: collaboration gawker organizing publishing technology union workers writers guild of america

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