The top media union in North America is looking to hire a Republican lobbying firm in hopes that bipartisan support on Capitol Hill may save the industry as it faces an existential crisis.
NewsGuild-CWA, which has 30,000-plus members, has met with GOP lobbyists to solicit their help on economic rescue packages coming from Congress in response to the market crash sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. The union, which is an affiliate of the Communications Workers for America, has not yet made a hire. But they are planning to do so, in what would be an act of overt politicking unlike anything the union has done in recent memory.
“We have not engaged in political work like this in decades,” said Jon Schleuss, the president of NewsGuild-CWA. “But it is essential because this looks like an extinction-level event.”
The spread of coronavirus across the country has led to an unprecedented slowdown in economic activity that has, in turn, gutted the advertising revenues of a massive swath of news outlets across the country. As a result, those outlets have been forced to dramatically scale back, with tens of thousands of journalists being fired or furloughed in recent weeks. Others have turned to the government for help, with several local papers and one prominent national outlet (Axios) applying for small-business grants from the government.
Schleuss said that the immediate goal of the union’s lobbying blitz was to find the funding to help stabilize the industry, both as a practical business matter and for the larger societal good.
“As things change and as conditions with the virus change, people really want to know what is happening at the local level, what the government is saying at all levels, and it is critical that we keep journalists employed so that information gets out,” he stressed. “Americans depend on it for their health.”
But beyond that, NewsGuild-CWA is looking to—as Schleuss put it—"seed a future” for newspapers that does not depend so heavily on hedge funds and private equity, both of which had facilitated the decimation of many local outlets prior to COVID-19’s emergence as a global pandemic.
The former may be a more achievable goal than the latter as, already, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has pushed for Congress to consider bailout funds for local newspapers that are buckling under the current economic pressures. But each goal will ultimately be dependent on Republican lawmakers to drop their long-standing aversion to using taxpayer resources to help journalism in order for it to be successful.
And that’s where the need for a Republican lobbying firm comes in. “We need to engage with Republicans to make sure we have a pathway to make it as bipartisan as possible,” said Schleuss.
Though NewsGuild-CWA has yet to hire, it does have suitors. Sam Geduldig, co-CEO of the firm CGCN Group and a former top House Republican aide, said that he had expressed interest in working for the union but that, ultimately, the relationship did not work.
“As a believer in the First Amendment, I believe everybody has a right to petition their government, even journalists,” Geduldig told The Daily Beast.