Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘media’

No surprise: TV news coverage omits union stories and union voices

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Laura ClawsonIf you think you don’t see much coverage of unions on national television news, you’re not wrong. A new study finds that, over a three-year period, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN aired just 141 stories in which unions and the labor movement were either the primary or secondary topic. That’s out of an estimated 16,000 news stories aired on the four networks, so less than 0.3 percent of all news stories.

The study, conducted by Federico Subervi of the Texas State University School of Journalism and Communications and commissioned by The Newspaper Guild, found that it’s not just that unions didn’t get much attention in the news. Coverage of labor issues often didn’t include any union point of view, with CBS not using even one union source in 24 percent of its stories on labor; NBC omitted union voices from 19 percent of the stories, ABC from 10 percent, and CNN from 9 percent. Also:

Subervi found that the pattern of portrayal of unions was negative, with workers critical of unions more likely to be heard. “One clear example was the case of a production crew member who was losing income and having financial difficulties due to the lack of work during the Writers Guild of America strike,” Subervi writes. “But the news failed to have any statement pointing to the corporations’ failure to reach an agreement.”Additionally, he found that news about labor and unions related to the field of education and the automobile industry included more governmental sources than labor sources. “The news treatment thus presents the government as the organized party willing to provide solutions, but not the labor/union negotiators,” he writes.

These conclusions resemble those of past studies, which have found that media coverage is often slanted against collective economic action and toward business and elite interests. Nothing you can’t pretty much pick up on by watching the news yourself, but it’s good to have a more methodical approach to draw on.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 3, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

Fired Hostess Worker Becomes One-Man ‘Truth Squad’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Bruce VailJust 12 short weeks ago, Mike Hummell found himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile union fights of 2012: the nationwide strike against Hostess Brands. As a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Hummell hit the picket lines in early November in support of the union’s desperate showdown with the company famous for making Wonder Bread and Twinkies. But for Hummell the strike would become more than an angry protest against Hostess’ assault on his livelihood. It would be the beginning of a journey through the electronic media in search of fairness for himself and his coworkers.

“It was incredible to see the strike portrayed in the media as the union forcing the company out of business,” says Hummell, a receiving clerk at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kan. With 14 years on the job, Hummell was dismayed that media portrayals of the struggle showed little or no understanding of the workers’ viewpoint. Adding insult to injury, many news outlets blithely repeated Hostess’ assertions that the company would be destroyed by BCTGM’s refusal to make “reasonable” compromises, he says.

The facts, as Hummell knew from his years at the bakery, were quite different. Workers had already made broad concessions to help save the company, and the goal of the strike was to the hold the line against Hostess managers intent on busting the unions and dismembering the company. While some press accounts seemed biased or misinformed, equally troubling was that the main newspaper in the area, Kansas City Star, was ignoring the story. Hummel’s wife sent in a complaint and a reporter soon contacted him.

“I got into an argument with them. I have to admit I was a little surprised when the the story came out and it was pretty accurate. They even quoted me by name,” he recounts.

Hummell then decided to make his own leap into personal journalism. Long a reader of the Daily Kos blog, he composed his first-ever post for the site. On November 18, Hummell—using the screen name Bluebarnstormer—blasted Hostess in a lengthy post titled “Inside the Hostess Bankery.”

“Wow, it just took off,” Hummell says. The post went viral, logging 261,723 page views in the following days. Indeed, it was so popular that Hummell’s work finished in second place in Daily Kos’ 2012 annual calculation of the site’s most popular reader posts. It was instant fame, of sorts. He was contacted by a news reporter for CNNMoney, and his comments received wide distribution. Hummell then received a call from a producer of the CNBC television network, asking that he represent the workers on a cable program with national distribution. He made two appearances on CNBC, during which he ably fielded hostile questions from both hosts and guests.

“The funniest thing about CNBC was the second time I was on, it was like they felt they had to have a whole crew of so-called ‘experts’ to prove I was wrong,” Hummell says. “Well, none of them seemed to know anything about Hostess.” He says he received a lot of encouragement from his co-workers in his efforts to spread accurate information about the strike, as well as from officers of BCTGM Local 218, which represents Hostess workers in the Kansas City area.

His campaign was not successful, however, in deterring Hostess owners from their plan to close the company, dismiss all the workers, and sell off all the assets to the highest bidder. Currently, Hostess is seeking final approvals from a federal bankruptcy court for an auction of the company’s bakeries and other property.

But Hummel is not finished in his quest. He recently completed work on a 27-minute video, which he videotaped (with a help of a close friend) at a union meeting for fired workers. He hopes that a continued campaign to inform the public will aid Hostess workers in what he regards as a gross miscarriage of justice in Hostess’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“It is absolutely a crime what has happened,” Hummell charges. “The owners of Hostess have lied again and again, and there has been no accountability” from Judge Robert Drain, who oversees the court case.

Judge Drain, he says, has been complicit in the abuse of the bankruptcy court process and should be called to account. Hummell hopes that full public exposure of Hostess managers and of Judge Drain can insure that some of the cash generated by the sale of Hostess will flow to the workers.

As for his journey into the world of media, Hummell says he plans to go further. His public stand on behalf of the BCTGM members has led to an invitation to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association, he says. His experience over the last 12 weeks has convinced him that it is possible for rank-and-file workers to make a difference, he tells Working In These Times.

You can contact Mike at bluebarnstormer <at> yahoo <dot> com.

This article was written by Bruce Vail at Working In These Times on February 2, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

The Press Oils the Machinery of Class Warfare

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

jonathan-tasiniI’m going to start by saying something entirely unoriginal: the traditional press has its head up its ass, and is thoroughly incapable of looking at itself and understanding that most transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”) are entirely not qualified to write about the economy or work and, indeed, are oiling the machine of class warfare.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the soft criticism out of the way, here is what made me write down the previous observation, one I have held after a long period of watching these clowns. Politico has a story about a Gallup poll about unions:

As unions have come under fire in states across the country, the differences in opinion between how Republicans and Democrats view organized labor has grown to historic margins, a new poll shows.

Republicans and Democrats have diverged dramatically in their views towards unions over the last year. This year’s Gallup poll on labor unions, released Thursday, shows that the gap between Republicans and Democrats on labor union approval is 52 percent, up from 37 percent last year.

Overall, only 26 percent of Republicans approve of unions, compared to 78 percent of Democrats. Last year, 34 percent of Republicans approved of unions, compared to 71 percent of Democrats.

Meanwhile, overall disapproval of labor unions remains near historic highs. A slim majority of Americans – 52 percent – approve of unions, up from a record low of 48 percent in 2009, while 42 percent of Americans disapprove of labor unions, according to Gallup. Historically the difference has been as low as 25 percent.

What are we to make of this data?

First, well, duh: if Americans hear nothing from the press but how “rich union contracts” and “high wages and pensions” are the cause of state budget difficulties–as opposed to a relentless undermining of a progressive tax system by Democrats and Republicans alike–what are they to think? If the press keeps hammering home the idea that our key problem is a phony debt and deficit “crisis” and they keep repeating–ERRONEOUSLY–that Social Security is broke or in financial dire straights and that people have to engage in “shared sacrifice” even though they had nothing to do with the crisis we are in and, thus, union workers have to accept cuts in their “golden” benefits–what are people to think?

You might remember that, at the dawn of the Iraq war, a huge majority of people were gung-ho about the war–largely because a complicit and stupid press just wrote down everything that an unethical and venal Administration fed to the transcribers of press releases.

The same thing is true when it comes to unions. Garbage in, garbage out.

Appeared originally in Working Life on September 1, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

Where Have All the Labor Writers Gone?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Consider the fate of the labor reporter. A long vanishing breed, there are only a few of them left in the country.

Businesses and their mouthpieces disparage them for daring to question their facts, their motives and for humanizing the stories that Corporate America wishes would remain distant and bloodless so nobody would pay attention to them.

Union supporters often question their support for organized labor. And they frequently accuse labor reporters of hyping their coverage in order to draw attention to their articles while failing to convey the deeper, more significant issues that confront unions.

Then there is the small collection of union crooks, and bullies who despise labor reporters because they dare to look under their unions’ hoods and to expose wrong-doing.

And yet the surviving labor reporters go on. They persist even though many of them have been scattered to the far corners of news operations by editors convinced that their stories no longer matter, and despite the crushing presence of business news that treats workers and unions as if they were invisible and unconnected to what goes on.

New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse is one of these survivors. He was recently snarled in a dispute with some union officials that says something about the job’s many thankless hassles.

In November, he wrote an article detailing complaints of current and former members of Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, with what they described as a longstanding practice known as pink-sheeting.

Citing interviews with “more than a dozen organizers,” Greenhouse detailed workers’ allegations that they were pressured to detail personal issues that they said were later used against them as a way to control or manipulate them.

John W. Wilhelm, Unite Here’s president, who was quoted as saying that he condemned such tactics, also described its presence within in the union as “rare.” But he also told Greenhouse that he was “cracking down on what pink sheeting existed.”

Not long after the article appeared, the Union of Unite Here Staff (UUHS) issued a public letter, heaping a mountain of complaints onto Greenhouse’s shoulders. The group accused the story of being founded on “trumped claims” from disgruntled former staffers, and of failing to link the complaints to the larger dispute that not long ago drove the former hotel workers and garment workers unions to abruptly break up their union marriage.

What’s Greenhouse’s take on these gripes?

Citing Wilhelm’s own admission that such abuses have existed and accounts from others familiar with them, he doesn’t think the complaints are made up.

Nor does he think he failed to point out the battling between the unions.

Indeed, the story did talk about the break-up and cited as well Wilhelm’s supporters who said that the complaints were coming from his union’s foes.

Could he have fleshed out more in detail the roots of pink-sheeting within organized labor? Possibly, I think. Could he have moved higher in the story the details about the unions’ toxic break-up? Possibly.

But questioning his “journalistic integrity,” doesn’t fit well.

Not when you consider reporting over the years about union victories ignored by most of the mainstream media, otherwise untold stories about companies’ abusive practices that unions stood up against, and stories about unions and their leaders that reached more than some husbands and young children.

It’s a pain delivering bad news about unions when they are so down on their luck, but  that’s one of the burdens of being a fair and honest labor reporter.

It’s also a responsibility.

I know, because I spent quite a long time doing the job, and can tell you all about the rewards and headaches, among them angry words hurled at you by union officials who say you are not on their side.

But truly you are not on their side.

You are there to tell the truth, to tell the human story, and to make sure nobody forgets that workers and unions count. And that’s a fact nobody should deny.

This article originally appeared in Working In These Times on December 12, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Stephen Franklin was the Chicago Tribune‘s labor and workplace reporter until August 2008.

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