Features, Multimedia, National

Workers Independent News: Off The Air

December 5, 2017

By Kris LaGrange

(Reprinted)
For 13 years, Doug Cunningham and Workers Independent News (WIN) has delivered news from unions and working people

Labor needs a strong voice now more than ever.

around the country. On November 17, WIN recorded their last news segment, marking yet another labor voice that has been silenced over the last few years.

WIN was a daily newscast that at its height was broadcast in over 200 markets. It could be heard on the Thom Hartman Show, Air America, 1010 WINS and on UCOMM Radio. The idea for a daily news segment that just focused on labor news was the brainchild of Frank Emspak. Frank, a labor professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, originally founded the program as a project of the University’s School of Workers. Frank served as the CEO of the company until his retirement earlier this year.

What made WIN unique was that the program was largely funded by labor unions. Emspak used his connections as a labor professor to gain sponsorship from many national unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO. Unfortunately, after Emspak retired, Diversified Media, the company behind WIN brought in a new CEO who didn’t come from the union movement. The new CEO was unable to get the unions to renew their sponsorship contracts, a re-occurring story that is all too common with union’s funding their only supportive broadcasting markets.

The fallout from WIN ending has been severe and the silence has been deafening. On-air talent Doug Cunningham who was the News Director and a member of SAG-AFTRA in Chicago, was laid off and an audience that had tens of thousands of daily listeners, are now left disengaged.  With an important voice for workers being eliminated, the responsibility of fair and balanced reporting of collective bargaining fights will now be left in the hands of for-profit producers who are beholden to the greedy intent of the bottom line. WIN’s goal was to report the stories of workers organizing to fight for better working conditions and a better life, a sometimes-unsexy message that the mainstream media often chooses not to report.

While WIN may be off the air, for now, Cunningham told UCOMM that he is trying to bring the program back. He said that he is in talks with Diversified Media over the ownership of the name and the possibility of bringing WIN or another program to a larger union radio program. For some reason, Diversified Media is keeping the name, and UCOMM is wondering why?
The sad truth is that as unions have come under attack, many unions have reduced their budgets for communicating with members and the public-at-large. UCOMM Radio faced this challenge as did other union programs like Labor Lines and The Rick Smith Show in Pennsylvania. While some International Unions continue to spend millions on swag and campaigns that deliver them no real bargaining power, like SEIU and the Fight for $15 campaign, the same union funds are wasted on turncoat politicians that don’t share the union value set. Getting the union message out to the public can be both costly and staff intensive and depending on politicians and well-intentioned journalist to promote the union message is both ineffective and foolish.
If you’re wondering why 40% of union membership voted for Trump, who then immediately delivered us Gorsuch and Janus, you can fulfill your wonderment just by tuning into Fox News. The Fox News audience is being force-fed constant anti-union messages and the alternative, well, really doesn’t exist.
UCOMM along with a host of others delivered an alternative, and Doug Cunningham will try to as well, but only time will tell if the current status quo leadership that labor leaders re-elected at the AFL-CIO will just again take their chances and beg that they get positive news coverage elsewhere.
December 5, 2017

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