The Writers Guild of America, East has welcomed the writing staff of Gawker, a gossip website known for its humorous take on news.
Gawker staff announced their decision to organize on Thursday, but the union’s executive director Lowell Peterson offered an explanation for the unique partnership — the first of its kind of the WGAE — on Friday.
“The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) has a long history of representing writers and others in broadcast news, and we have been at the forefront of organizing digital media,” Peterson said. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the writers at Gawker and its affiliated web sites – men and women who are dedicated to crafting stories that elucidate and entertain. Like all professional journalists and storytellers, these writers deserve a voice on the job.”
“The way people write, produce, distribute, and consume news and information is changing in fundamental ways. The WGAE knows the union and its members must be active, alert and creative in responding to (and shaping) this transformation,” Peterson concluded. “Gawker has long stood as a leader in digital media thanks to the skills, dedication and foresight of its staff, who have decided to take an active role in building solid, sustainable careers.”
WGAE is a labor union that has traditionally represented writers in motion pictures, television, cable, broadcast news, and moved into the digital media space six years ago.
While speaking to TheWrap on Friday, Peterson said the WGAE has contracts on a number of CBS news websites, and works with writers that infuse digital video and social media into their storytelling, but said Gawker editoral staff are the union’s first “website-centric” members.
“It’s certainly an expansion for us, and I think it’s a very logical extension of the work our members are doing elsewhere, but it’s an exciting new prospect to sink our teeth into with this writers,” Peterson said.
Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan, who wrote the article announcing the “early stages” of attempting to unionize with WGAE, also said his company “would be the first major online media company to organize.”
“There was a time when much of the media was unionized. As journalism has moved online and flourished over the past 20 years or so, union workplaces have become much more rare in our industry,” Nolan wrote. “There are plenty of companies in this industry whose workers could desperately use the help of a union. If we can show that it’s possible, I hope that a positive precedent will be set.”
“We’re certainly open to it,” Peterson told TheWrap when asked about a possible mainstream shift toward union representation in the digital news writing field. “Right now, of course, we’re focused on Gawker … If others come to us, we’ll be happy to talk to them.”
Peterson also told TheWrap that the union’s initial focus is to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement between Gawker and its editorial staff. How long that will take, however, is up in the air.
“Some of our campaigns take a couple of weeks, and some of our campaigns take months. I would say this one would be on the shorter side, because frankly, they’re doing a lot of self organizing,” Peterson said. “You never know when working on things like this whether it will be bumpy or smooth, but so far it’s been exciting.”