Workers Independent News: 2001-2017

It was a crisp but comfortable fall day in 2000 when I was invited to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Memorial Union Terrace for a beer-summit about an interesting project-proposal. I was preparing to leave my career in commercial radio journalism out of disgust with the industry’s post-Telecom Act trajectory and had applied to the UW to start a master’s program in hopes of learning more about what had gone wrong with my chosen vocation, so the timing of this meeting was fortuitous.

It was the brainchild of then-UW School for Workers professor Frank Emspak: drawing on decades of experience in the labor movement and as an activist more broadly, Frank was worried that the voices of working people were being squeezed out of our media conversations, especially as business news increasingly focused on corporate executives and stock-prices, and our media outlets themselves were increasingly subject to the whims of finance capital. What if there were a news outlet run by workers, for workers, that put what passed for “business news” in the proper economic context?

A couple pitchers later, the four of us around that Terrace table had sketched out the framework for what would become Workers Independent News: the first national, labor-centric radio news program to be launched in the United States in several decades. We produced daily newscasts, feature stories, and other content from a DIY newsroom/studio in Madison and utilized our website for distribution — in effect launching a podcast long before podcasts became cool. Dry-runs of the production process began in late 2000, and WIN was officially launched in early 2001. Read More

More Radio Industry Market-Maneuvering Afoot

Although iHeartMedia’s dance with bankruptcy is widely seen as a key indicator of the health of the radio industry more broadly, that company is not alone in reconfiguring its approach to finance capital. Two other conglomerates are also making moves — one trying to leave the stock-trade behind while another wants to jump back into those waters.

First up is Emmis Communications: the Indianapolis-based company has been hammered in the stock market over the last few years, threatened with delisting by NASDAQ after its stock dropped below $1 per share in 2015. After conducting a reverse-stock split earlier this year (reducing the number of shares in circulation, thereby inflating the price of remaining shares) which brought the company back into compliance, company founder and CEO Jeff Smulyan has announced a $46 million bid to take the company private. Read More

Wrath of Interns Reaches Clear Channel

The nation’s largest radio conglomerate is the newest target in a growing crusade against internship exploitation. Plaintiff Liane Arias alleges her internship at Clear Channel consisted of menial administrative tasks and staffing promotional events—things other employees would have done had her free labor not been available, and a far cry from the educational experience her internship promised. More importantly, she’s asking for class-action status for her case.

Arias is represented by an NYC-based law firm that specializes in labor and employment law and is making a name for itself in unpaid internship litigation, spearheading a similar complaint against SiriusXM satellite radio. This is just the latest in a series of lawsuits filed by former interns against media companies in the last few years: the floodgates opened in 2012 when unpaid interns for PBS’ Charlie Rose Show settled a class-action lawsuit. Then, in June of 2013, a judge ruled that the Fox Searchlight movie studio violated labor law in its use of unpaid interns. Read More

The Karmic Circle of WIN(S)

Fresh from a skirmish with an overzealous state lawmaker on a liberal media witch-hunt, the Workers Independent News (Service) got a surprising bit of good news recently. WIN(S) can now be heard in New York on 1010 WINS-AM.

This is quite a turn of events, for three years ago the owner of 1010 WINS, the CBS Corporation (née Infinity Broadcasting, formerly a subsidiary of Viacom) threatened to sue WIN(S) not once, but twice, on spurious claims of trademark infringement. Read More

Viacom v. WIN(S): Goliath Just Won’t Quit

More than a year ago I vented about how a radio news service I helped found began getting pressure from one of radio’s biggest bullies. The Workers Independent News Service (WINS) found itself potentially facing a lawsuit from Viacom due to the fact that Viacom’s radio subsidiary, Infinity Broadcasting, owns 1010 WINS-AM in New York City. Viacom alleged that “our” WINS was a trademark infringement on “their” WINS…as if listeners might get confused between a full-time full-power AM radio station in a single market that reminds listeners of its call letters at least every 20 minutes and a nationally-syndicated headline news show fed to its affiliates once a day.

We appealed directly to the AFL-CIO for help, since our news was union-friendly. It was completely lukewarm to the idea and initially very hesitant to get involved in our defense (which says a lot about the backbone of the American labor movement, but that’s another rant). After successfully stymieing Viacom’s lawyer-folk for several months the company pressed the issue and threatened to begin the sueage for-real. Read More