Faced with layoffs and damaged morale over the handling of the network’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein, NBC News Digital employees have agreed to unionize.
About 150 editorial employees within the company’s digital unit announced Wednesday they had joined the NewsGuild of New York, which represents nearly 3,500 media professionals in the New York City area. The unit is part of the larger 20,000-member NewsGuild-CWA, which represents news professionals across the U.S. and Canada, including the Los Angeles Times.
The union organization effort has been underway at NBC News Digital for more than a year as employees have sought to address issues of staffing, diversity, and job protections. NBC News Digital employees learned Tuesday that about a dozen employees in the area’s production studio would be laid off as part of a restructuring. The company is adding 70 digital employees overall in the restructuring plan as the streaming video service NBC News Now expands.
Chris Berend, executive vice president of digital for NBC News Group, said in a memo that the request to recognize the union would be addressed quickly.
“We are deeply committed to a fair and healthy workplace for all our employees,” Berend said. “We welcome this dialogue from within our digital organization, and any constructive conversation aimed at building the future of NBC News Digital and ensuring that we’re the best we can be.”
In his note, Berend did not comment on the mission statement released by the employees, which cites the issues raised in former NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill” regarding the network’s decision not to run his reporting on alleged sexual assault and harassment by Weinstein. The book asserts that the story, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Farrow, was held back at NBC because news division executives feared harassment issues regarding former “Today” co-host Matt Lauer would be exposed.
“Recent weeks have highlighted serious questions as to how NBC News has handled incidents of sexual misconduct in the workplace as well as the opaque processes and procedures for reporting on and exposing powerful predators,” the statement read. “NBC News repeatedly refused calls for an independent review on both counts despite numerous such requests from staff. This lack of transparency and NBC News’ troubling trend of passing on stories which investigate the powerful ultimately harm our credibility as journalists.”
NBC News has denied Farrow’s allegations regarding his Weinstein reporting, saying his story did not air because he failed to get a victim or witness on the record. Farrow took his reporting to the New Yorker, where it was published in October 2017.
Farrow’s book revealed that Brooke Nevils, the former “Today” employee who filed the complaint that led to the November 2017 firing of Lauer, said she was raped by the star anchor when they worked together at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. NBC News executives have been under fire for not revealing the charge to staff at the time Lauer was fired.
NBC News also has maintained that no formal harassment complaints were filed against Lauer before Nevils contacted human resources. Lauer, the biggest star at NBC News at the time, was terminated immediately.
Following Lauer’s firing, NBC News conducted an internal investigation and stated a commitment to improve the mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment within the company. The company has been criticized for not using outside counsel to review the matter, as CBS and Fox did when dealing with their harassment scandals.
While NBC News executives have disputed Farrow’s book, which it has described as a “smear,” the issues raised have caused a generational divide within the division, creating an ongoing public relations headache for the network.
Younger staff members — who make up the vast majority of the staff in NBC News Digital — are said to be angry with NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, who is portrayed in the book as discouraging Farrow’s efforts to report the Weinstein story.
Senior staff members — including many of the veteran female anchors and executive producers at NBC News — have been supportive of Oppenheim. He also has the steadfast backing of NBCUniversal President Steve Burke.
On Friday, NBC News executives were subjected to blistering criticism from MSNBC anchor Rachael Maddow, who had Farrow on her program to discuss the book.
“The allegations about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer are gut-wrenching at baseline, no matter who you are or what your connection is to this story,” Maddow told viewers. “But accusations that people in positions of authority in this building may have been complicit in some way of shielding those guys from accountability, those accusations are very, very hard to stomach.”