Labour journalist and author Sarah Jaffe hosts a virtual forum on organizing in the media and cultural sectors. As the digital media union movement has not let up for more than five years now, and as the pandemic begins to recede, it’s time to take stock of what we’ve won, to reflect on new strategies, and to frankly assess the challenges that lie ahead.
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.
Since 2015, well over 100 media outlets have unionized. Thousands of media workers have taken collective action to improve their working conditions. They are starting unions to win fairness, dignity, and a stronger voice at work. This video shows what’s behind the organizing wave in digital media, how workers organized their unions, and what they won by unionizing.
The platforms we have surveyed here are but one piece of an emergent and highly varied set of communicative responses by workers to a new organization of labour markets, technologies, and processes. While promising in many respects, they have not yet reached the requisite scale to take part in sweeping wins for labour. All of them, however, display a common set of goals revolving around the establishment of an independent digital infrastructure for horizontal communication among workers and/or for promoting public contestation of corporate communications. As such, these labour organizing platforms have the potential to counteract the disempowering communicative logics of the labour management systems at platform companies.
At a moment of tremendous flux in journalism, unions are trending in digital newsrooms. In June 2015, Gawker’s unionization kicked off a wave of digital media organizing. Ongoing efforts to unionize aim to improve working conditions in a growing sector of the media economy, and workers have won better pay, job security, and benefits. But union drives have also had broader aims: to support editorial freedom in an age of sponsored content, to protect and expand racial and gender diversity, and to give workers a stronger voice in their newsrooms. This timeline highlights some key moments in ongoing efforts to organize digital media.
Unions are trending in digital newsrooms. This chapter examines the campaign to unionize one workplace within an ongoing digital media organizing wave: VICE Canada, a subset of VICE Media. Our account is based on in-depth interviews with inside organizing committee members, Canadian Media Guild staff organizers, and VICE staff; a review of documents produced during the drive; and media coverage of the campaign. VICE Canada staff hoped that the union would raise and standardize pay, protect and expand racial and gender diversity and equity, and support editorial freedom.
Amid fevered debates about the future of journalism in Canada, a union drive at Vice Canada is signalling that young journalists have a vision for digital-first media outlets – most of them branches of American-owned companies – that are growing and very profitable yet are not easy places to work. Organizing efforts by the Canadian Media Guild at Vice follow a wave of successful drives in several digital newsrooms south of the border in 2015, including Gawker, Vice, the Guardian US, Salon.com and, most recently, the Huffington Post, whose newsroom of 262 journalists makes it the largest unionized digital news staff in North America.
Informed by a larger study on emerging precarious labour politics in creative industries, this chapter identifies and illustrates three threads of communicative activism: collective identity, counter-publicity, and networked solidarity. Collective identity concerns flexworkers’ involvement in struggles over the meaning of their employment status and the labor they perform. Counter-publicity encompasses the creation and online circulation of media that raise awareness about precarity, examples of which include intern activists’ name-and-shame social-media tactics, the leveraging of celebrity in campaigns to improve labor standards, and the staging of creative direct actions and cultural productions. Networked solidarity designates the role of the internet and other information communications technology in aggregating and supporting mutual aid among dispersed workforces. We conclude by recasting collective identity, counter-publicity, and networked solidarity as practices of autonomous communication, which contribute to the building of infrastructures of dissent in the face of spreading precarity.