Statesman Staff Strikes for a Wage Floor of $60,000

Gannett journalists nationwide will strike Monday (Courtesy of Public Domain / Maggie Q. Thompson)

Unionized reporters, page designers, photographers, and editors at the Austin American-Statesman will strike Monday. They’re not only advocating for fair pay but to protect the very existence of the 152-year-old newspaper, per the Austin News Guild’s Friday press release.

The Statesman has been bleeding talent for years. Gannett, the massive media corporation that owns the Statesman and many city newspapers, merged with GateHouse Media in 2018 and has cut half of its jobs since then. The Statesman newsroom fared even worse, losing 60% of its people since the year of the merger.

The newsroom won’t be alone in striking. Hundreds of Gannett journalists will walk out Monday during the media behemoth’s annual shareholder meeting, in hopes those shareholders will get the message and hold a vote of no-confidence for Gannett CEO Mike Reed. (In 2021, Gannett paid Reed more than $7 million – enough to cover all of the salaries in the 44-person, Pulitzer Prize-nominated Statesman newsroom, plus another two newsrooms like it. Some 130 Gannett journalists wrote tens of thousands of local news stories that year and the combined dollar value of all of that work was less than the single salary of Mike Reed.)

What would it take to save the daily newspaper in the most politically powerful city in one of the most powerful red states in America? The Austin News Guild says a wage floor of $60,000 (and some other guarantees – that they can leave unsafe scenes without punishment, for example.)

Donors have given more than $10,000 to support Statesman staff missing out on pay for the strike. Though they’re only announcing one day, News Guild chair Luz Moreno-Lozano (wrinkle: she’s leaving the Statesman for KUT) pointed out that staff at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram were on strike for 24 days before they were able to secure a $52,000 wage floor. The Fort Worth News Guild had raised $50,602 through a GoFundMe to get through that long strike. The Austin News Guild’s GoFundMe has so far raised $10,285.

Currently, the lowest-paid Statesman reporters make close to $40,000. The Guild points out that Austin’s average home price is roughly $600,000. The average home price in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is closer to $400,000 – where the Star-Telegram has its newly agreed to $52,000 floor and the Dallas Morning News has set theirs at $55,000. Based on home prices, a proportionate wage floor at the Statesman would be near $70,000. Last month, Moreno-Lozano said they picked the $60,000 number because “that’s what we’ve researched is a livable wage. It’s not great, but at least at [$60,000] people can make some good decisions with their life.”

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