The NewsGuild-CWA has always fought for the rights of journalists — at the bargaining table, in the courtroom, and in the court of public opinion.
The Guild’s Executive Committee has already taken actions to defend the work of journalists. The Guild signed onto an SPJ letter with 70 other organizations in an effort to get the incoming Trump administration to give journalists more access than the press had during the Obama administration. Separately, the Executive Committee sent a letter to the attorney general protesting the arrests of journalists covering inauguration protests. This president wants to have even less access. So, what’s the bigger plan?
First and foremost, we must work with allies who are concerned about a free press. Second, we must lead when it comes to activism by and for journalists. If we don’t fight for our calling, we shouldn’t expect others to do so with any success. This may be controversial to some who see it as harming their objectivity. But, the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech. And, union activity is protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Our contracts, too, provide the protection of a just cause provision.
We must respond to inappropriate actions by the administration to limit the ability of journalists to report on activities of the government. Given the pace of events of the first month, it likely will be difficult to draw attention to every infraction, so the Guild is developing an online wiki that will attempt to do that. We will make sure employers do not discipline members for outside activities. Sadly, some have already gone down that road. It is startling to see institutions that demand freedom of speech for their companies deny their employees of that same right.
Journalists advocating for their rights might be controversial to some who have an intrinsic fear of participation. A debate about activism is raging throughout our community. I believe we are seeing a necessary and major shift in understanding the need for activism. And, to the degree the president insists on warping the truth for the purpose of holding unchallenged claims, we will decry each action along with other allies for a free press.
We will use our members to sort through ways to take action and find ways to resist. We will work with allies to respond to inappropriate words and actions of this and other administrations. We are already working with the international community on ways to protect sources world-wide. This will be difficult and practicing journalists get that.
We need to inform the public on the need for trusted, credible information. For too long, the tradition of journalism has been marginalized by the left and the right. Now, it threatens to move into the mainstream.
For journalists, fighting back and resisting also means being in the streets defending the right to report the news. No one should take the first amendment for granted, because rights are like muscles — if they aren’t exercised they atrophy. We should make no apologies for activism.
Lastly, because of fear of retaliation by employers, we know that unionized journalists are best positioned to lead the fight. Guild members have an advantage because of our contracts. So, join the Guild. Join the fight with us. Resist those that would threaten and curtail journalistic freedoms. As I have said before, our democracy depends on it.