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The Balancing Act: Politics, Journalism and the Guild

Members of the Guild and CWA demonstrate for worker benefits. Photo by Kat Anderson.

Growing up with a dad who was managing editor of our city’s newspaper taught me a couple of things:

The “Guild” — whatever that was exactly — meant I couldn’t play at being a kid reporter and see my stories in print, at least not in The Eugene Register-Guard.

It also meant a front yard free of political signs, cars with no bumper stickers and never seeing my parents sign a petition.

I never did any of those things either during my 13 years as a reporter, before coming to CWA and now the Guild.

Were I still a reporter today, I can’t help but wonder how much harder it would be to maintain that purity. Could I be silent about the escalating assault on unions and the ripple effect on workers and the middle class? Should I be silent?

It’s not really a matter of yes or no. It’s also not a matter of what happens Nov. 6. The real question is, can we touch that third rail and have a discussion in the Guild about if, how and when we engage in politics?

Tony Mulligan, the longtime administrative officer at the Denver Guild, says members are failing to grasp that there’s a direct link between what happens to workers and unions politically and what happens at the bargaining table.

“I’ll have members ask, ‘Why isn’t our contract better?’ and I want to scream,” Mulligan says. “Register to vote. Get active. It’s not going to get better until we fix the economy — and we can’t fix the economy at the table. We have to fix it through politics.”

“As a union, I think we’re being too careful,” Mulligan says. “I think it’s time to be bold and preach political action from the pulpit of The Guild Reporter.”

Another non-journalist, United Media Guild’s Shannon Duffy, agrees. “Totally. Totally,” he repeats with emphasis.

That doesn’t mean that Duffy and Mulligan don’t get it: They know there are unwritten rules — and some written by employers — that limit or bar journalists from getting involved in politics.

But can or should the Guild:

More actively encourage members to support pro-worker, pro-union (and oppose anti-union) legislation, campaigns and candidates?

Encourage members to take part in non-partisan voter registration activities?

As locals, or as NewsGuild International, make political endorsements? (See story above about Guild’s controversial endorsement of George McGovern in 1972.)

Duffy’s local has experimented with political action in St. Louis: This year, the local endorsed two state ballot measures, for a higher minimum wage and a cap on predatory payday loan interest rates. Members — mostly those outside the newsroom — circulated petitions to get them on the ballot.

Duffy would like to go further. “I think locals should endorse political candidates,” he says. “When a reporter tells me, ‘That could be construed as coloring my objectivity,’ I say, ‘Doesn’t the paper, the people who write your paychecks, endorse candidates? Doesn’t that color your objectivity?’”

“The answer is always, ‘No, I’m a professional,’” Duffy says. “Why should it be any different when it’s their union making the endorsement?”

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Now it’s your turn. We’re asking you to email us at guild@cwa-union.org with your thoughts about if and how Guild members can be more politically involved, especially on issues that affect workers and unions. If you indicate that it’s OK to use your comments and name publicly, your email may be posted on NewsGuild.org and/or published as a letter to the editor in the next Guild Reporter.

Reprinted from www.newsguild.org.

Kat Anderson

Kat Anderson

Pacific Media Workers Guild Administrative Officer/Business Agent, founder of Bay News Rising mentorship program for college journalism students and editor of mediaworkers.org.

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