By: Mark Fitzgerald
Not so long ago, labor conflict meant labor stoppage that shut down papers — and the incomes of both the strikers and the struck. In Detroit alone, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Bryan Gruley’s book Paper Losses, there were more than 100 labor stoppages between 1955 and 1968, including a marathon 1967 strike that shut down both dailies for six months.
During the post-World War II period, societal changes like the ubiquity of television and the shift from factory work doomed many newspapers — especially evening papers — but many folded following wrenching strikes. Such legendary papers as The Herald Tribune and the Journal-American in New York City were felled that way.
These days, both labor and management know that a strike only sometimes means the paper stops publishing. Much more typical were the unsuccessful strikes by pressmen and typographers at the Chicago Tribune in 1985 or the massive 1995 walkout at the jointly produced Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, a labor dispute that stretched on for more than 500 days. In both cases, the papers never missed a single day’s publication.
The Detroit dispute was a cautionary tale for more than just labor, however: Because of the strike, combined Free Press and News circulation dropped by more than a third and never really recovered, and owners Knight Ridder and Gannett Co. Inc. acknowledge losing $100 million in the first months of the strike.