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Al Jazeera America votes to unionize after turbulent management

Reporters and editors at Al Jazeera America Digital have voted to join the NewsGuild, becoming the fifth major digital newsroom to unionize in the United States this year.

The move comes after a turbulent year of management at Al Jazeera America that, despite being widely known inside the industry, was brought to the fore when the New York Times published an expose on then-chief executive Ehab Al Shihabi. The chief executive was removed in a management reshuffle earlier this year prompted in part by the Times piece and in part by numerous lawsuits filed by former staffers.

In a statement released earlier this year, staffers who voted in affirmation to unionize said their efforts were meant to help the fledgling channel “do better.” The staffers urged the channel to “uphold its mission, not just to its audience but also to its employees.”

“A troubling lack of transparency, inconsistent management and lack of clear redress have persisted at AJAM Digital,” the staffers said. “Discrepancies in salaries, responsibilities and the way job performance is evaluated undermine our work and the harmony of our workplace.”

The move impacts staffers at Al Jazeera America’s digital properties — particularly its website — and does not appear to impact on-air talent, management or other staffers at the channel.

An Al Jazeera America spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper it was reviewing their staff’s effort and would decide in the future whether to recognize the union.

The Guardian, along with Vice News, Salon and Gawker Media, have all formed unions in their newsrooms in 2015.

The Guardian: Al Jazeera America moves to unionize

Disclosure: The author of this post is a member of the Newspaper Guild of New York, part of the NewsGuild.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).