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Breaking: Philadelphia technology reporters to unionize across local publications [April Fools]

A rogue group of Philadelphia technology reporters from a variety of the city’s media outlets have announced their intentions to unionize against what one participant called “the oppressive regime of paternalistic publishers that plague digital community reporting here.” In the past, local efforts to unionize have happened at individual tech news outlets and have had […]

Technically Philly freelancer Yael Borofsky and Geekadelphia contributor Mikey Il. Photo by Andre Flewellen

A rogue group of Philadelphia technology reporters from a variety of the city’s media outlets have announced their intentions to unionize against what one participant called “the oppressive regime of paternalistic publishers that plague digital community reporting here.”

In the past, local efforts to unionize have happened at individual tech news outlets and have had limited impact. Now, union organizers say they have representatives at the Inquirer, Daily News, Philadelphia Business Journal, NBC 10, CBS 3, WHYY, Geekadelphia, Philly Tech News, Flying Kite and this publication, Technically Philly.

“We are a force,” said Mikey Il, the union’s presumed leader and longtime Geekadelphia contributor. “We cover the region’s ninth largest employment sector in the country’s fourth largest market. Without us, you would have to find out about the new DreamIt class on PR Newswire.”

Already facing razor-thin profit margins, the union plans, which are expected to include demands for salary increases, improved conditions and “more swag,” according to internal documents, are seen as a threat to the growing technology media community in Philadelphia.

Ahead of negotiations next week between publishers and reporters, there have been a flurry of public demonstrations from union representatives.

Photos of Philadelphia Business Journal technology reporter Peter Key, the Inquirer’s Joe Distefano and Technically Philly’s Yael Borofsky linking arms and sitting cross legged in the middle of Market Street in Old City have been widely circulated on social media. Philly Tech News publisher and reporter Tom Paine posted a series of related links in a blogspot post without a title, but then promptly took it down.

In response to the swirling turmoil around heated labor negotiations, Flying Kite published a really positive review of a new, joint Arden Theater and DesignPhiladelphia art collaborative with high-quality press photos.

In perhaps the most high profile incident yet, during Friday’s live 6 p.m. news telecast, CBS 3 digital reporter Nicole Brewer tore in half an 8 x 10 photograph of Technically Philly co-publisher and legendary firebrand Brian James Kirk, before the station cut to commercial.

Kirk took to Twitter, tweeting “lolz, we’ll replace you all with robots by Q2 of 2013,” before removing the post and issuing a statement referencing “the quality of U.S. workers.” Kirk failed to respond to request for comment for this story.

An apparent statement was released by Philadelphia Business Journal executive leadership, but it was behind its paywall. “Don’t you think I have bigger stuff to deal with?” said Philadelphia Media Network spokesman Mark Block.

Neither side has spoken about specific negotiating details.

“The first I’m hearing about this is reading it right now on Technically Philly,” said an executive at a local media company involved in the unionization, which would only speak on the condition of anonymity. “I’ll get a reporter right out there to cover it without any reference whatsoever to where we found the story.”

Claims of abuse are rampant on the union side, most notably from the bowels of the Geekadelphia machine, which has squashed efforts to unionize internally before.

Contributors there have been forced to work in “sweatshop-like conditions in the dank basement” of co-founder Eric Smith, claims Geekadelphia union lodge captain and longtime blogger Jo Pincushion in the blog’s latest, incendiary podcast. Smith and fellow co-founder Tim Qurino declined to comment through spokesman avatars on Xbox Live, though Smith released a written statement via a rambling Facebook post.

“Rumors of my handcuffing Dan Tabor to his couch with the Independent Film Channel on for 48-hour periods and demanding reviews are grossly exaggerated,” the statement said. “Geekadelphia will unionize the day Dustin Johnson pries a check for his back pay from my cold, dead hands.”

For now, the union is focusing on a united front, ahead of the looming first round of talks.

“I can no longer stand by and report on the latest app for soccer moms while so many of my colleagues are not treated like the skilled professionals they are,” said NBC 10 ‘What the Tech’ reporter Vince Lattanzio, while putting on makeup for a segment on Pininterest. “I stand by my brothers and sisters in this fight.”

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