Write, Post, Unionize: Journalists and Self-Organization

Nicole Cohen and Greig de Peuter. 2019. “Write, Post, Unionize: Journalists and Self-Organization.” Notes From Below 7, June 8.

Since spring 2015, journalists in almost 50 newsrooms have unionized, mostly in digital-born outlets in the United States. This “wave” of unionization, as it has been dubbed in media accounts, took many by surprise. It defied the assumption that American millennials (who are the largest cohort in these digital media unions) are primed to dismiss unions as a relic of a fading industrial age.

The turn to unions also belied the popular image of digital-first media outlets like VICE and Vox: laid-back workplaces staffed by young, underpaid but happy writers, fueled by tech startups’ do-what-you-love, libertarian ethos, and housed in offices that look more like nightclubs than newsrooms. But journalists are unionizing in response to the new normal in digital media (and journalism more generally), including pressurized working conditions, precarious employment, and a lack of management transparency.

“These are white-collar workers,” says an editor we interviewed, “but they’re [unionizing] for the same reasons that anybody else would.” Motivations for organizing in each newsroom vary, but some grievances are common. Digital journalists work for low pay in expensive media cities, where many struggle to pay bills. Pay is wildly unequal, often contingent on one’s gender, race, or who offered them a job. Journalists view unionizing as a way to establish fairness and equity in pay and transparency around job structure and routes to promotion. They want job security for the legions of permalancers and contractors staffing digital media, and improved benefits such as healthcare, parental leave, and vacation.

Read the article in Notes From Below.