SPJ Florida board speaks out against recent wave of layoffs
On Wednesday evening as reports come flooding in about newsroom layoffs around the state, the Society of Professional Journalists Florida Pro Chapter Board of Directors is once again compelled to condemn newspaper owners in the state of Florida for treating journalists as expendable.
In the middle of a pandemic — which journalists are making sacrifices to cover — as the United States and other countries try to get a grip on a situation that feels unprecedented, we are saddened to see that our already weakened Florida newsrooms are another casualty of the new coronavirus.
Thirteen staff members were laid off at Orlando Weekly. The Tampa Bay Times, already experiencing financial concerns before the pandemic, laid off 11 staff members this week. Journalists at Miami New Times had their pay cut by 25% and were warned of looming layoffs. We also saw Creative Loafing Tampa Bay lay off more than half of its staff. All of this happened in the last three days.
“We are reminded of the value of journalists as the entire country learns to navigate a new, hopefully temporary, way of life,” SPJ Florida Vice President Cassidy Alexander said. “They work tirelessly each day to bring people the newest information in a way they can understand, in an era where nothing seems to make sense.”
We are not blind to the realities of the situation. The impact the virus has had on so many industries worldwide is immeasurable at this time, and news organizations are staring down the same set of uncertainties. But we cannot envision a way to make this global situation better with fewer journalists. For journalists to be viewed as disposable, especially now, by news organizations is confounding to the SPJ Florida Board of Directors.
We want to help.
On Wednesday, we launched the Hand Up Fund, inspired by our sister chapter in Oregon, for journalists who are losing money. Whether it’s full time reporters recently laid off or feeling the blowback from pay cuts, freelance journalists experiencing a loss of income from canceled assignments or journalists who rely on a now non-existent service industry job (because we’re deeply aware that many Florida journalists rely on second incomes to do what they love): all are encouraged to apply.
The micro-grants are for up to $100 per person. It’s not anywhere near enough, but it’s groceries or the internet bill that recipients won’t have to pay for when they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from. It’s also the best way we can figure out how to make that money last for what is quickly becoming such a largely affected group. Those inclined to donate can do so online.
We’ve also published a recorded version of our webinar, “So Your Newsroom Wants to Unionize. Now What?” to help journalists get informed on what they can do to protect themselves — because, especially now, we know how important that is.
The ripple effects from the new coronavirus are only going to get worse and more far reaching. We are urging news organizations to be patient, and to prove that you value journalism by keeping journalists on your staff. And we are urging journalists to take care of yourselves, and to keep doing your work. We need you now, more than ever.
Emily Bloch and Cassidy Alexander
President and Vice President, SPJ Florida Pro Chapter
The Society of Professional Journalists Florida Pro Chapter Board
Emily Bloch, president
Cassidy Alexander, vice president
Lulu Ramadan, VP of programming
Michele Boyet, VP of membership
Brendon Lies, secretary
Christopher Persaud, treasurer
Christiana Lilly, past president
Kristen Grau, student rep
A sharable version of this letter is available below