Standard General this week made a series of concessions and promises to appease critics of its multi-billion dollar merger with local broadcaster TEGNA, including a pledge to maintain newsroom jobs at the media company for at least three years if the deal goes through.
The promise builds on an agreement Standard General earlier made to preserve newsroom jobs at TEGNA for at least two years if its $8.6 billion deal to acquire the company cleared regulatory and public scrutiny.
Standard General has faced immense pressure from federal regulators and a heightened sense of scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Media Bureau, which is tasked with approving or rejecting the deal on a matter of elements, including whether the merger would be in the public’s interest.
Standard General and its executives argue that the Media Bureau has held up its approval or denial on the matter. Terms of the deal’s financing expire in mid-May, and Standard General believes the FCC is deliberately imposing delay tactics — to include sending the matter before an administrative law judge, which is being challenged in actual court — in an effort to force its deal to fall apart.
Critics of the deal include local unions representing journalists at TEGNA and Cox Media Group, who say the merger of the two brands would lead to job losses and harm local competition for news and community-based programming.
Standard General argues the opposite, saying the merger would lead to a greater investment in local news resources and will better serve the communities where TEGNA operates more than five dozen local television stations across the country.
To that point, Standard General said this week it will increase local news budgets in TEGNA newsrooms by approximately 20 percent and establish a $5 million local journalism fund that will disburse grant money to various community news projects. Both initiatives would be made over the course of three years from the date of closure, should the deal go through.
The commitment to not lay off TEGNA journalists mainly protects employees who are covered by one of several unions, including the NewsGulid and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET). Both the NewsGuild and NABET are part of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).
It wasn’t clear from Standard General’s announcement if non-union employees in TEGNA’s newsrooms were covered by the three-year job lock guarantee. Non-union positions typically include interns, production supervisors, scriptwriters, researchers and some news producer roles.
Neither the NewsGuild nor NABET affirmed this week if the concessions offered by Standard General were enough to win over their support. In the past, both unions have applauded the FCC’s action in scrutinizing the deal, to include the Media Bureau’s decision to send the matter to an administrative law judge for review.
The promises were enough to convince one union to support the deal: On Monday, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) applauded Standard General’s new pledges and said Standard general’s founding partner, Soo Kim, had worked to build a production relationship with the group.
“Mr. Kim has been constructive in his approach to labor relations, and based upon his prior actions, we believe that he understands the core issues that matter to organized labor,” Patrick J. Kelly, the president and business manager for IUOE Local 399 in Chicago, said in a statement. “Based on all of the foregoing, it is our opinion that Standard General will continue to bring its cooperative approach with organized labor to its other portfolio companies, including, but not limited to, TEGNA.”