In an era characterized by the rapid transformation of the media landscape, shrinking audiences, dwindling budgets, and widespread layoffs have become all too common for journalists across the United States. Yet, in the face of these adversities, media professionals from the bustling streets of New York and Los Angeles to the quieter locales of San Antonio and Naples, Fla., have risen to challenge the prevailing conditions imposed by their corporate overseers. This burgeoning movement has seen journalists stepping out from behind their desks and onto the picket lines, voicing their dissent in a bid to reshape the industry.

Central to this nationwide campaign is Jon Schleuss, a former data journalist from The Los Angeles Times, who has rapidly ascended to prominence as the president of the NewsGuild-CWA. Schleuss embodies the determination of journalists to produce stories that make a difference in their communities, undeterred by the profit motives of corporate owners, the financial strategies of hedge funds, or the missteps of management. His leadership has become a beacon of hope for many seeking to reclaim the integrity of journalism.

The wave of union activity under Schleuss’s guidance is not an isolated phenomenon. Across various sectors, including auto manufacturing and air travel, workers have been mobilizing to secure better wages and working conditions, signaling a widespread revival of labor movements. Schleuss’s own transformation from a passive observer of these movements in rural Arkansas to a key figure in the fight for journalists’ rights highlights a significant shift in the landscape of labor activism.

His journey began in the newsroom of the L.A. Times, a publication that had long resisted unionization efforts, during its era under the ownership of Tribune Media. Faced with severe cost-cutting initiatives, fluctuating management, and glaring pay inequities, Schleuss, alongside his colleagues, recognized unionization as the sole path to protecting their craft. Their successful endeavor to unionize in January 2018, which coincided with the sale of the newspaper to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, marked a turning point, leading to a notable enhancement of the paper’s editorial capabilities.

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The triumph at the L.A. Times sparked a chain reaction of labor activism within the journalistic sphere, propelling Schleuss to the forefront of the NewsGuild leadership in 2019. His tenure is distinguished by an unwavering commitment to labor negotiations, with a particular emphasis on the importance of strikes as a means to safeguard journalists’ rights and underscore their collective power.

The impact of this strategy has been felt widely, with journalists from esteemed publications like The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau publicly protesting against layoffs, a move that resonates with similar actions across the industry. Notably, journalists at the Chicago Tribune, now under Alden Global Capital’s management, staged a historic strike, drawing attention to the dire circumstances many news outlets face.

These actions not only highlight the immediate challenges confronting the field, such as the encroachment of digital platforms on content and the viability of traditional news models, but also underscore the vital role of unions in advocating for fairer terms for journalists. Through collective bargaining and public demonstrations, journalists are not merely contending for their own welfare but are also championing the cause of quality journalism itself.

As we witness the ongoing evolution of the news industry, the resolve of journalists and their unions in striving for equitable treatment and the maintenance of journalistic standards serves as a powerful testament to the critical role of the press in society. Their efforts underscore a fundamental belief in the press not just as a watchdog, but as a cornerstone of democracy, deserving of protection and respect.