A group of New York Times staff have formed a new “independence caucus” within NewsGuild, the union that represents them, the Wall Street Journal reports. Formed out of frustration with their union taking actions they view as breaking with journalistic objectivity, the caucus consists of dozens of Times employees.
That includes well-known name journalists such as investigative reporter Megan Twohey, best known for her work covering Harvey Weinstein and helping to kickstart the #MeToo movement. Also one of the caucus’s organizers, Twohey wrote in a note to other union members on Slack reviewed by the Journal that part of the problem is their national union growing and even including some who don’t work for media organizations.
“We see this caucus as, in part, a way to continue important conversations in our union about how to respect and balance the different priorities of our broad membership,” Twohey wrote on the messaging platform. In an interview with the Journal, she added, “We want to articulate the standards many members are required to follow and why we think they’re important, and undermining them and compromising them for us is a problem.”
The move comes as both unions writ large and many members have taken political stances driven by members, both on labor issues and on broader polarizing conflicts. That includes the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, which led to a NewsGuild virtual meeting over the idea of calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to U.S. government aid for Israel.
Times staff opposed the idea because they believed it would break their neutral stance and also put colleagues covering the story from war zones at risk. At the same time, those attacks have been followed by journalists at a number of organizations, including the Times, signing on to public statements independently, believing that holding a stance on moral issues takes precedent over journalistic neutrality.
Some Times staff believed that the discussion itself is one that would be prohibited for staff to participate in under Times policy, which states, “Staff members may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements.”
The caucus’ organizers wrote in a document sent to members of the newspaper’s broader Times Guild that they believe “that journalists must be able to report freely, following the facts where they lead with an open mind and without outside interference.”
The formation of the group came with its own internal conflicts. Investigative reporter Kevin Draper wrote in an internal union Slack message that he wouldn’t be joining, as he believed that both the international union and the local that represent their staff “have been pretty responsible with their statements, and that what this caucus is calling for is basically already the status quo.”
That’s also the stance of Times Guild chair Bill Baker, who wrote on that internal Slack, “our Guild is inherently what the ‘Independence Caucus’ has set itself out to be.”
But reporter Matthew Rosenberg, who’s been covering the conflict in Gaza, was among those who spoke in favor of the new caucus. “I wish we lived at a time where we could let our work speak for ourselves,” he wrote in a Slack message, according to the Journal. “We don’t, and all too often we sit in silence while colleagues in the media (mostly outside the NYT) take overtly political stances.”
Other political issues that the union has had to sort through recently include labor issues at the Times itself, as well as conflict over its coverage of transgender issues. One of the writers whose work led to that internal conflict, Emily Bazelon, is among those who’ve opted to join the caucus. Other staff are looking to improve the NewsGuild from within, according to the Journal, while others are exploring the idea of breaking off from the larger union.
NewsGuild represents 26,000 workers at 498 organizations, including 294 media outlets. It also has a history of voicing stances on issues, NewsGuild’s Jon Schleuss noted to the Journal, such as a statement in 1981 that said abortion and contraception “should be a personal matter for a woman to decide.” It reaffirmed that statement last year.