Less than three months after Miami Herald capital bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas gleefully announced that she and her colleagues had voted overwhelmingly to form a union, called One Herald Guild, their parent company, McClatchy, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in New York on Thursday. The company publishes 30 newspapers across the country, including the aforementioned Miami Herald, the Bradenton Herald, and the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald.
NewsGuild, the union that represents journalists at six McClatchy newspapers, including the reporter members of One Herald Guild, issued a statement through their president, Jon Schleuss, that appeared to be at odds with the real-world economics of the news business.
“Continued financialization of local news will destroy our democracy. It’s time for communities across America to stand up and fight to save local news.”
Schleuss, presumably speaking for all Miami Herald union members, then went on a social media rant, posting a similar messages on Twitter, complaining that hedge funds – groups of private investors who pool their money – are “murdering” journalism:
If we want to save our democracy, we have to fight the hedge funds murdering the fourth estate. Join us by signing our petition: https://t.co/G0KhBZlD2o #SaveLocalNews
— Jon Schleuss (@gaufre) February 13, 2020
Meanwhile, McClatchy’s corporate office put on a brave face, attempting to reassure all interested parties, including their unionized employees, that no major changes were afoot:
“McClatchy has obtained debtor-in-possession financing of $50 million which, coupled with the Company’s normal operating cash flows, will provide ample liquidity through which McClatchy and all of our local news outlets will operate as usual throughout this process.”
But other industry voices have expressed great skepticism about the future of newspapers. Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett announced recently that he intends to sell off the newspapers he owns, according to a story in the Associated Press:
Two weeks ago, billionaire Warren Buffett said he was selling all of Berkshire Hathaway’s publications; 31 daily newspapers in 10 states as well as 49 paid weekly publications with digital sites. Buffett is a lifelong booster of newspapers but he has said for several years that he expects most of them to continue on their declining trajectory, save for a handful of national papers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
And one of Buffett’s top lieutenants, Charles Munger, sounded even more bearish on newspapers, declaring that U.S. newspapers have no future according to a story published by Yahoo! Finance:
“Technological change is destroying the daily newspapers in America,” Munger said Wednesday in Los Angeles at the annual meeting of Daily Journal Corp., the publishing company where he is chairman. “The revenue goes away and the expenses remain and they’re all dying.”
While legacy newspapers continue to struggle, news outlets with a digital focus have found ways to thrive. There are currently at least six digital-only media outlets covering Florida politics and policy that didn’t exist ten years earlier, including The Capitolist, Florida Daily, Politico Florida, Florida Politics, The Floridian, and The Florida Phoenix, to name a few that publish regularly. None of them are unionized.