J-school students face wage issues in bargaining and summer reporting

BayNewsRising20140527Ten student journalists began the 2014 edition of the Bay News Rising summer program Tuesday night by organizing their own bargaining unit at Pacific Media Workers Guild local 39521 in San Francisco.

Backed by a grant from CWA’s Next Generation initiative, the Bay News Rising program offers mentorships, editing assistance and paid work opportunities for college journalism students interested in reporting on labor, women’s rights and other social justice topics.

Participants meet twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, in the Guild conference room on Natoma Street. Rebecca Rosen Lum, president of the local and a founder of the Guild Freelancers unit, is the program’s lead instructor, backed by two alumni, Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez and Sara Bloomberg.

Students are expected to produce at least two publishable stories by the end of the 9-week program, which will concentrate on coverage of the minimum wage this summer. The first assignment, given on Tuesday night, was to find and profile a low-wage worker.

“The students seems hungry for information and hungry for journalism,” Rodriguez said afterward.

Many of the students are from working class backgrounds, paying their own way through school, lured to journalism by the idea of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable but frustrated by the lack of jobs.

Nowadays, news organizations and online outfits offer only unpaid journalism internships, paying in a phony currency of “exposure” and “contacts.” One of the main lessons of the Guild’s Bay News Rising program is that journalists deserve to be paid, and that journalist unions should make that happen.

That is why the program architects, led by local administrative officer and program founder Kat Stewart Anderson, always invite each crop of student participants to form their own Bay News Rising Student Bargaining Unit on the first class each summer. The students then negotiated their terms and conditions with Anderson and Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall.

“They forced us to agree to go over budget, and the hourly rate they got is $2.50 more than the freelance unit’s student minimum,” Hall said. “But we were able to avoid making any agreement on the free snacks, so we will find a way to pay for everything, even if it means no cheese and crackers some nights.”

This is the program’s third year. The first two seasons were financed by grants from the Berger-Marks Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The CWA grant includes money to finance a Bay News Rising internship-fellowship program during the upcoming school year as well. The local hopes to create a model program in labor reporting through local journalism programs at SF State and UC Berkeley.

Local 39521 is also hoping to assist other locals in the Guild interested in starting their own student education/mentorship programs. “A key to our survival as labor organizations is to attract younger workers, many of whom are faced with non-traditional work roles. By offering them career training and a sense of community, membership makes sense to young freelancers,” Anderson said.

For more information, please contact Kat Anderson or call (415) 298-1335.

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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer