What do The Arizona Republic's unionization plans mean to ASU?

The publication's widespread scope affects University students, faculty and alumni

Down the street from ASU's downtown Phoenix campus, The Arizona Republic's employees publicly announced their plans to unionize on Wednesday, bringing together members of the ASU community in the wake of their declaration.

As the state's largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic is an established member of the Arizona community and long-time partner with ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, providing internships and job opportunities to students.

"When it comes down to it, this is the state newspaper," Angel Mendoza, a social media producer for azcentral, the digital version of The Arizona Republic, and Cronkite alumnus said. "This affects everyone. We've been connected to this community in so many different ways, we even did a whole back-to-school package for incoming ASU and college students."

At the time of publication azcentral had published 20,832 entries with an ASU tag.

Mendoza has been involved with the publication's unionization efforts since the beginning of this year when discussions started, adding that the motive has remained unchanged.

"We just want a seat at the table," he said. 

Preserving local journalism

The desire to protect their newspaper is a large reason behind unionization efforts, Mendoza said. For him, unionizing doesn’t just mean salary negotiations — it means preserving a paper for when he is long gone. 

“We want a paper that will be there for our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren," he said. "We see this as a step to make that reality.”

The Arizona Republic is not alone in its desires as nearly a dozen other newspapers under Gannett, the paper's parent company, have unionized. 

Mendoza said The Arizona Republic's union has the potential to make history because the paper could be the first to unionize after the Gannett and GateHouse Media merger. The merger comes at the tail end of budget cuts that left many journalists across the country without jobs

According to Pew Research Center, general newsroom employment declined 25% from 2008 to 2018. During that same time span, the number of newspaper employees dropped by 47%, from 71,000 to 38,000 newspaper staffers. 

Other newspapers across the country that have unionized include The Washington Post, Associated Press and The New York Times. More than 30 publications won union recognition through The NewsGuild-CWA, which also represents The Arizona Republic. 

Michael Wong, director of career services at the Cronkite school, said local journalism is not only crucial to the community as a whole, but is especially important for Cronkite students and graduates. 

“Local journalism is so important,” Wong said. “Regardless of what your major is in college, it’s where you get your news. For Cronkite students in particular though, it’s where most, if not all of them will get their start in the field.” 

Longtime ASU ties

For decades, The Arizona Republic and the University have partnered through an internship program in which up-and-coming Cronkite students are able to get real newsroom experience and publish their work through an active and recognized publication. 

According to the guild's mission statement, The Arizona Republic has run for 129 years and has earned many accolades including the Pulitzer Prize.

"That relationship has been around for a long time," Kristin Gilger, Cronkite senior associate dean, said. "It’s really a staple for Cronkite and our community."

Gilger said the internship program has even been around longer than many Cronkite staff members, including herself.

Additionally, the program has been utilized by dozens of students throughout its existence. Wong said the 2018 academic year boasted 25 participants and the 2019 academic year has had 28 interns. 

Sean Holstege, a Cronkite professor who worked for The Arizona Republic for 10 years, said unionization efforts have no impact on how "invaluable" the internship opportunity is for students.

"I tell my students that you're going to learn the most by the types of internships you get at the Republic," Holstege said. "The daily grind of turning out stories is what you learn from. I work closely with the people who worked on those internships. With a union, without a union, it's a really special opportunity." 

Joining the guild

Richard Ruelas, a reporter for The Arizona Republic and a Cronkite professor, said the desire to unionize initially came with a lot of fear.

The publication came under fire in late August after executive editor Greg Burton sent an email to newsroom staff that threatened to meet so-called surveillance activities through “disciplinary channels.”

"We were worried that we would get fired," Ruelas said. "That fear has lessened, especially knowing that there are more co-workers on board with this. The one thing I did not expect was that email."

For Ruelas, the support from ASU alumni and students is encouraging, but he finds inspiration through other channels. 

“It’s nice to see the reactions online, but the public can’t hire and fire me,” he said. “The strength I get is from talking to my co-workers. Believe it or not, we’re still getting work done, it’s business as usual.” 

Ruelas said the behind-the-scenes work from those involved in the union, including campaign launches, video production and social media posts to promote awareness, has not interfered with The Arizona Republic's purpose: fostering a more informed public. 

"Through it all, there is still a lot of work to do and deadlines to meet." he said. “We have a job to do, and we’re doing it.” 

Editor's Note: Angel Mendoza previously worked as a reporter and editor for The State Press but did not contribute to the reporting or editing of this story. Richard Ruelas teaches one of the reporter's classes but did not contribute to the reporting or editing of this story.

Reach the reporter at kreinha3@asu.edu and follow @ReinhartKatelyn on Twitter.

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