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About one in six journalists now in a union, including many new members in the Mountain West

Andrew Rees
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News brief

A Pew Research Center analysis found that one in six journalists are now part of a union. Another 41% of journalists say they would join if it was an option.

That comes as unionization efforts are spreading across many sectors in the U.S., though it’s been pronounced in journalism.

The largest support comes from younger staff. Pew found that more than three quarters of journalists under the age of 30 are either in, or want to be in, a union. That’s compared to 41% of those who are 65 and older.

Journalists in the Mountain West are also increasingly unionizing, especially at newspapers owned by larger corporations like Lee Enterprises, Gannett and McClatchy. Newsrooms at the Casper Star-Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Idaho Statesman all voted to unionize over the past few years, with the Chronicle being the latest.

Michael Lycklama is a sports reporter at the Boise-based Idaho Statesman and a steward of its union, called the Idaho NewsGuild.

“People are watching these corporate entities that now own us hand out executive bonuses and stock buybacks, and at the same time laying off – mass layoffs – of journalists and saying we can’t afford to have you,” he said. “You can’t have it both ways.”

He says unionizing is how they fight to keep resources at local papers.

More than 360 local newspapers have closed in the U.S. since 2019, according to The State of Local News 2022 report published by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in June. It’s a trend the authors call a "crisis for our democracy and our society."

Pew also found that smaller publications, like those in the rural Mountain West, are less likely to unionize. Of those with fewer than 10 people, only 4% have a union.

Compare that to news organizations with 500 or more employees, where 57% have a union.

Lycklama said small papers can be more nimble in unionizing, but also face challenges.

“You’re part of a chain, but if you’re in Montana the next paper that’s part of your chain is 200 miles away, what relationship do you have with those people there? How do you collectively organize and act to improve your working conditions?” he asked.

Other factors included journalists’ gender (women were more likely to be pro-union) and whether their new organization served left-leaning or right-leaning audiences (the latter tended to have fewer unions).

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

I’m the Mountain West News Bureau reporter at Boise State Public Radio. That means I work with reporters and NPR stations around the region to cover Mountain West issues like public lands, influential court cases and the environment, among many other things.