UMG raises journalism concerns at Gannett shareholders meeting

The United Media Guild raised concerns about the state of journalism in Gannett during the company’s annual shareholders meeting Monday morning.

The event, held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, was the first since the GateHouse-Gannett merger. On behalf of The NewsGuild at large, the UMG offered a shareholder proposal calling on Gannett to produce an annual report on its commitment to journalism.

“Our newsrooms are continuing to shrink,” UMG president Jeff Gordon said during the meeting. “The loss of news content has accelerated print circulation and advertising decline, which has led to more cuts, which has subtracted more news, which has further accelerated revenue loss and so forth.”

The UMG represents journalists at six Gannett newspapers: Peoria Journal Star, Rockford Register Star, Freeport Journal Standard, State Journal-Register, Pekin Daily Times and the Springfield News-Leader.

“We believe the report could include a property-by-property summary of newsroom staffing growth or decline – highlighting where news, sports, business and features coverage has either increased or decreased,” Gordon said.

Gannett took no position on our proposal, but warned shareholders of its potential cost. Shareholders voted down the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin.

During the brief Q-and-A session, director Barbara Wall said  the board agreed with the union that maintaining quality local journalism was vital to the company’s future. But the board felt the company sufficiently reported its commitment to journalism to shareholders.

“We’re not convinced the annual report requested by the union was necessary,” she said.

Wall also noted that completing this report would cost time and money at the time when the complex GateHouse Gannett integration was still underway.