Collectively Confronting Journalists’ Precarity through Unionization

N. Cohen and G. de Peuter. 2022. “Collectively Confronting Journalists’ Precarity through Unionization.” In Kalyani Chadha and Linda Steiner eds, Newswork and Precarity. New York: Routledge, 203-216.

The future of journalism as a site of sustainable careers and a potentially democratic form of communication depends on collective organization. While unionizing cannot solve all of journalism’s problems, our study reaffirms the defensive and transformative power of collective organization in journalism, as reflected in unions’ use of the bargaining process to reduce journalists’ precarity by raising standards in media work. This chapter examines how workers are collectively responding to unstable careers, low pay, intense work pressures, and race- and gender-based inequities through unionization. We show that precarity in journalism is experienced unevenly, especially for women and racialized workers, who have joined and climbed the journalistic ranks at a time when media careers are overwhelmingly fraught.

We find that equity around race and gender has been at the core of many efforts to unionize and that contractual gains begin to build a safety net for journalists, although not without a struggle. Our survey of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) shows that journalists have been able to improve material conditions by raising salaries, setting minimum salary fl oors, and enhancing benefits and have addressed gender and racial diversity in innovative ways. We evaluate the promise of digital media unions and their CBAs for addressing the interrelated issues of precarity and equity. We argue that through building “cultures of solidarity” (Fantasia, 1988) and enacting practices of care, today’s digital media unions are developing collective protections for journalists in an industry in flux.

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