The Digger Deal is Good for All involved

Yesterday’s announcement that VTDigger and the VTDigger Guild had reached agreement on a contract was, I have to admit, a surprise. The terms were an even bigger and pleasanter surprise.

That’s because Digger management had stonewalled the talks for at least a year since the Guild organized. There was no reason to think that management would ever change its tune, but now it has. And I’ve renewed my monthly donation to Digger, which I suspended in May when the Guild went public with its account of the stonewalling.

Another sign of a healthy union/management relationship came in the comments on the settlement from both sides. Digger founder Anne Galloway said the talks “resulted in mutual respect, better communication and excitement about the future,” and spoke of “the Guild’s commitment to the VTDigger mission.” Lola Duffort, ace reporter and co-chair of the Guild local said negotiations were “a long and at times difficult conversation, but we had it as equals, and the organization is much stronger for it.”

Which is almost word-for-word what I wrote when I suspended my monthly donation: that the Guild wanted to support Digger and its mission, not tear it down.

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 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 contract is a big step in that direction.

Terms of the three-year contract seem to establish a firm foundation for Digger as a place where journalists can not only grow and develop, but have actual careers. The deal sets salary minimums for reporters and editors, annual cost-of-living adjustments, one-time raises for veteran staffers, job security through just cause, five weeks of paid time off per year, eight weeks of “nearly fully paid parental leave,” whatever that means, and… miracle of miracles…

Overtime pay for those who put in more than 40 hours in a week.

That last one is almost unbelievable. Working long hours for no extra pay is pretty much standard in the journalism industry. Employers customarily take advantage of reporters who are (a) mission-driven and (b) professionally insecure. I recently read a piece (which now I can’t find; if anyone knows the piece, please provide a link in the comments) about this very thing: Journalists are often treated very badly by employers because they are mission-driven — and are expected to be by their bosses. You’re supposed to go pedal to the metal all the time, because we’re not just a business — we are the voice of the people, the guardians of democracy.. That’s a heavy burden on the shoulders of a reporter who just wants to get home in time for dinner.

The establishment of a sustainable work process at Digger is not only a good thing for writers, editors and management; it’s a model for a healthier future for journalism as a whole.

Digger had already been widely recognized as a model for a sustainable non-profit news organization. For that very reason, the American Journalism Project ponied up a $900,000 grant to develop Digger’s business operations in January 2020.

For me, and for every other reporter who also wants to be a human being, that model has to include livable pay, benefits and working conditions. It must no longer be acceptable to suck the marrow out of young reporters and cast them aside when they burn out or get uppity.

VTDigger blazed a trail in nonprofit journalism. It fills a void in local reporting that’s become a chasm since its founding as a one-woman shop. Galloway deserves a ton of credit for that. Now, she deserves even more for reaching a constructive settlement with the Digger Guild.

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