Baltimore Sun Reporters Inch Toward Strike

The Baltimore Fishbowl reports that Baltimore Sun reporters are gearing up to demand higher salaries in contract negotiations this year:

As The Sun‘s newsroom heads toward negotiations with management over a new contract, staffers went on social media today to highlight one of their top priorities: pay raises.

Reporters posted pictures holding the green balloons with an upward-pointing arrow and the words “Rai$e Our Pay Now.” In a couple photos, the balloons appeared to be tied to nearly every desk in the paper’s Port Covington newsroom.

With the reporters making public their demands for a pay raise and with the union’s contract expiring June 30th, it certainly looks like the Baltimore Sun Guild is again laying down their markers for a potential strike this summer.

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The specter of a strike is not new; the Guild started publicly kvetching about wages back in October 2016, at which time I wrote about the potential for a strike.

A lot of the issues that I brought up in my October 2016 post are still relevant today:

  • The Guild agreed to a bad contract on behalf of the reporters, and the reporters are still paying the consequences for the union’s failure;
  • The reporters are continuing to demand pay increases without job losses in an industry that is showing an economic decline and for a company that faces its own economic challenges;
  • The inherent bias of unionized employees covering union political issues at the state and local levels of government.

I do want to highlight two paragraphs I wrote back in 2016 that maintain a lot of relevance today:

Nor does the statement and the way it’s phrased seem to be marketed in a way that will appeal to the average Baltimorean, many of whom would love to see a 2.5% raise of their own or would love to have the problems of a steady, white collar job such as these Sun reporters. The statement, its timing, and its tone don’t seem to make a lot of sense…..

…..that is unless you think that the Sun reporters are laying down a marker for a potential strike when their contract expires in 2019. That could be the long term strategy but it would be a strategy that would destroy the Baltimore Sun and would put all of their employees out of work regardless of their union status. The Sun’s circulation and readership is already declining thanks to cancellations and by reader dissatisfaction with liberal content (one of the reasons that we were brought in to write for the Sun before the heat from Democrats got to be a little too much). A job action that would cause delays or disruptions with Baltimore Sun delivery of both print and online content would create new subscriber discontent and would cause problems with the Sun’s existing advertising base. A job action, if that’s what the Guild is really planning for 2019, really could be the end of everything, leaving news consumers in the lurch.

Has anything I’ve written changed in the past three years?

It’s interesting that this comes out around the time that Maryland Reporter’s Len Lazarick opined about the state of the State House Press Corps, which has been declining in size for some time. He notes that the Sun generally sends only two reporters to cover the State House now, far fewer than they had in the past. This is a statewide trend that we have been seeing for years with the decline in quantity of media outlets covering state and local politics. With less ink dedicated to state and local concerns in the paper, it helps to drive revenue down and makes it harder for papers to turn a profit. When you combine that with free outlets like Maryland Reporter, Maryland Matters, Baltimore Fishbowl, Red Maryland and others providing free content and analysis, the Sun provides few incentives to become a subscribing.

(Also: as a subscriber, it would be nice if I wasn’t subjected to so many damn ads and pop up videos. If I’m paying for the content, leave me alone with that stuff).

If The Sun‘s Guild is really preparing their reporters for a strike this summer, they are preparing themselves for a lot of pain. Because while I’m sympathetic to their desire for higher pay, a strike will irreparably harm the Baltimore Sun’s business to the point that it may mean that a lot of the reporters won’t have a job to come back to.

One thing is clear, however, through all of this mishigas; the Baltimore Sun reporters would be better without the Newspaper Guild than they are with it.

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