August 20, 2015

Update: Politico told Poynter Thursday afternoon that Elk is no longer with the company.

Reports of Mike Elk’s firing may have been premature. Earlier this week, reports began circulating that the Politico labor reporter had been let go under mysterious circumstances after a heated conversation with Politico Pro Editor Marty Kady.

“The publication has not given any information to the union,” Elk told Washingtonian magazine Monday. “We know nothing right now.”

Elk, who is well-known in media circles for his union advocacy, deferred comment to the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild when asked about his supposed departure Tuesday. Today, guild organizing consultant Bruce Jett told Poynter that Elk is still working for Politico.

“Mike Elk is an associate member of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild through the national guild, and he is a labor reporter for Politico, and he is on vacation until Sept. 1,” Jett said.

Later Thursday, Elk tweeted that he is still employed by Politico.

The announcement seems to contradict an earlier tweet (since deleted) from Politico Labor Policy Editor Timothy Noah, who told his colleague Jack Shafer that he currently had a “vacancy” on his staff.

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Meanwhile, Politico has scrubbed Elk’s name from its staff directory, another indicator that the company intends to part ways with him. Neither Kady nor a Politico spokesperson responded to earlier requests for comment.

News of Elk’s supposed dismissal stands out amid growing support for unionization among staffers at online news outlets in recent months. A swell of digital organizations, including Vice, Gawker Media and Salon have all announced their intentions to organize, one right after the other.

Elk has been a force for unionization in newsrooms he’s joined, successfully organizing the staff at former employer In These Times. He appears to have met with some resistance among his colleagues at Politico, however. Elk says the union drive has thus far failed to gain traction with the newsroom’s upper management, but he is still optimistic that the effort still might bear fruit.

Earlier this week, Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon reported that some of Elk’s colleagues were “mortified” after the labor reporter asked presidential contender Bernie Sanders whether he thought Politico should make it easier for staffers there to unionize:

Not long afterward, my screen lit up with instant messages from some of Elk’s mortified coworkers. Some were actually open to joining a union. Soliciting public solidarity from a candidate they were supposed to be covering? Not so much.

In an interview with New York magazine published today, Elk predicted that Politico would organize given “a year or two.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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