Award to Splinter's Nolan highlights union advances in digital news media

Hamilton Nolan, an editor-writer who was central to union organizing at the now defunct Gawker, will receive a Writers Guild of America, East award that underscores the rapid pace of unionization in the digital media sector.

He'll be honored with the Richard B. Jablow Award for Devoted Service to the Guild at the 70th annual award in New York City on Feb. 11. It was established in 1978 in honor of Richard B. Jablow, a founder of the WGAE who authored its constitution.

Nolan has been a member since 2016 when he was a labor writer for Gawker. There, he was prominent in Gawker Media becoming the first big digital media firm to cast its lot with the Writers Guild of America, East. That move obviously predated the resolution of the tumultuous litigation that resulted in the giant Hulk Hogan verdict and Gawker's demise.

But the move by Gawker editorial employees to be represented by the union prompted organizing campaigns elsewhere, including VICE, HuffPost, ThinkProgress and Vox. The union represents a growing cadre that also includes The Intercept, Gizmodo Media Group (Splinter, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, The Root, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9, Jalopnik, Earther), MTV News, Thrillist and Salon. 

And the same union represents writers at "The Daily Show," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," "Law & Order SVU," the ABC and CBS broadcast news, and public TV shows such as "Sesame Street."

Taken together with other union successes among new media outlets, the advances are a bright spot for organized labor during an era where it continues to face stiff cultural challenges. The overall percentage of unionized workers has dropped sharply in recent decades, notably in the private sector, with steep drops coinciding with declines in manufacturing and other traditional industries.

Indeed, conventional wisdom in recent decades has often been that the sort of white-collar younger workers one finds in digital media would be resistant to unionization. Their more self-centered aversion to larger organizations of many sorts, and to collective action, were often cited. What's playing out in the digital media sector runs counter to those assumptions.


“This award is for the hundreds of digital media workers who have come together to unionize in two short years,” said Nolan. “Soon we'll be able to say we've turned a non-union industry into a union industry.”
"It's no surprise younger workers and digital media workers want to unionize — we work under capitalism," says Nolan, who moved to Splinter News, which is part of Gizmodo Media Group, after the Hogan court victory that led to the demise of Gawker. He is one of two digital members on the WGAE Council.

"Like everyone else who works under capitalism we can clearly benefit from having a union. The undeniable logic of unionizing is why it will only continue to happen."

The most recent notable union organizing effort involves workers at Vox Media. The company chose not to voluntarily recognize the union as the collective bargaining agent as it indicated it has questions about the scope of the potential unit outlined by the union.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.


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