For a full year, the VTDigger Guild has been trying to negotiate its first contract. And it’s been met with an unyielding brick wall on every front. Now, in a series of tweets, it has taken its case to the public.
The Guild organized in the spring of last year, and I was proud to be part of the effort. I believed the union would be a good thing for all parties. And it still can be, if Digger gets serious about a contract.
Until it does, I’m suspending my monthly donation to Digger. I can’t support an enterprise that treats its workers this way. If you identify as a friend of labor, I suggest you think long and hard about doing the same. And write a letter to Digger via this page on The Action Network.
I hate to do this. Digger is an absolute necessity for coverage of Vermont policy and politics. Founder Anne Galloway deserves all the credit in the world for creating this enterprise.
But it’s time to grow up, and enter into a partnership with its workers. This shit won’t fly any more:
VTDigger is at a critical juncture in its development. It is trying to build a sustainable, professional enterprise capable of thriving in a time of dramatic change for its industry. The American Journalism Project believes that Digger is a model for the future of nonprofit journalism. So much so, that in January 2020 it committed $900,000 over three years as an investment in Digger’s business operations.
With that money comes heightened expectations. The AJP will expect results. That means that Digger must make a complete break with its past as a spunky little startup with a handful of staff. The ad hoc style of “management” that sufficed in those days is no longer good enough.
The enterprise that AJP expects for its money will be capable of paying a decent salary to its reporters. It will have a professional HR process, consistent policies, and a regularized power structure. For that kind of organization, dealing with a union is just part of the job.
If this is the model for journalism’s future. It must be able to provide a decent working environment. It needs to offer good pay, working conditions and advancement opportunities.
And, for the good of its own product, it must be able to keep good reporters around for longer than a year or two. Since its founding, Digger has been unable to retain good people. Every time a reporter leaves, Digger’s coverage suffers as it has to train up a replacement and give them time to learn complicated subject areas like health care, climate change and education.
The Guild wants to be a partner, not an antagonist. It isn’t making outlandish demands. Guild members want Digger to prosper, and to fully become a model for sustainable journalism. The Guild is ready to build a positive relationship. So far, Digger has treated the Guild with barely concealed contempt.
When that changes, I’ll resume my monthly support.