As Statesman Reporters Were on Strike, Gannett Posted Their Jobs

And published anonymously written stories


Journalists were on strike last week and Monday (photo by Lina Fisher)

Readers of the Gannett-owned Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., and the Gannett-owned Austin American-Statesman here in town read very similar articles on Monday, with the same headline: “I looked at the eclipse and now my eyes hurt. What are the symptoms of eclipse blindness?” What might seem like a case of plagiarism, however, is more dubious in the age of AI. Each byline names “staff” from the respective papers – but Statesman journalists have no idea who wrote the piece.

This is not the only instance of unclear authorship during Statesman journalists’ four-day strike, which they returned from on Tuesday. In a Twitter thread, the Austin NewsGuild noted stories and photos written by USA Today network reporters misattributed to Statesman staff: “This misleads readers into thinking Austin-based journalists were behind the content,” the NewsGuild tweeted. “USA TODAY reporters are not considered as or labeled Statesman staff under normal circumstances. Were those stories written by editors? Reporters from other Gannett papers? AI? Freelancers? Readers have no idea.” A Gannett spokesman told the Chronicle, "All content was written by USA TODAY Network staff, reporters, and editors - not AI."

Aside from wages and job security, Statesman staff were on strike for a guarantee of protection from replacement by AI. Despite the questionable bylines during the strike, “We’re not really sure if they’ve actually done it,” said Nicole Villalpando, health reporter and leader of the Austin NewsGuild, Friday on the South Congress bridge during the strike. “But they’ve attributed [articles] to a person, but we’ve never heard of them. We know our freelancers.”

“We’re trying to ensure that big corporations like Gannett can’t just get away with steamrolling across local news institutions in their communities.”   – Skye Seipp, reporter

Amy Garrard, Vice President of Labor Relations at Gannett, said, “Our goal is to preserve journalism and serve our community as we continue to bargain in good faith. Austin American-Statesman readers can be assured there will be no disruption to our ability to deliver content and trusted news.”

Statesman reporters have been negotiating their contract for three years now, and their last strike did move the needle. That was in January, and shortly after Gannett finally budged on wages – thus far a sticking point in negotiations – going up from a starting salary of $48,000 to $50,000. But the union wasn’t prepared to settle for even $50,000. They originally put forth $60,000 and were willing to come down to $57,000. Gannett has so far refused to meet them any further in the middle, and has only offered a one-time 50-cent raise. “Some of us haven’t had a raise in seven years,” said Villalpando.

In addition to not going far enough for the union, Gannett threatened rolling back the few concessions they have made. In a strike FAQ emailed to Statesman staff, Gannett wrote that “the progress that the parties made towards an agreement in the last few weeks was conditioned upon reaching a contract before April 5, 2024. The parties understood that, if they did not reach an agreement, all of the proposals would revert back to those on the table on March 26.” After the strike was initiated, Gannett went back to its original wage floor offer of $48,000. It also threatened to “temporarily or permanently replace striking journalists,” and made good on part of that Friday, posting several “temporary” reporter positions.

“Journalism is such an unsustainable career these days,” said Skye Seipp, who interned at the Statesman in 2022 before being hired as its only dedicated public safety reporter last June. “We’re trying to ensure that big corporations like Gannett can’t just get away with steamrolling across local news institutions in their communities. But it’s hard when you’re just losing all of the institutional knowledge that was here.” The newsroom has lost 60% of its staff since 2018.

Gannett claims it’s bargaining in good faith, writing, “We know many of you have been wanting to close a contract as much as we have. We think the Guild is missing an enormous opportunity” by striking. Seipp said, “It’s not that we don’t want to get it done. But we want to get it done in a way that actually protects us.”

Editor' Note Thursday, April 11, 4:06pm: This story has been updated to include comments from Gannett.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Statesman, Austin NewsGuild, Gannett, unions, AI

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