If you’re not aware, American newsrooms are unionizing. While marketers brag about “preserving and independent press” and Trump derides “fake news,” Google’s mobile-first mentality, news aggregators, and just the breadth of the internet at this point makes it hard to compete.
You have to be lean and hungry to survive in a world where companies are merging and making cuts to survive and compete.
And even the unions themselves aren’t immune. NewGuild, formerly known as the Newspaper Guild, announced in August 2019 that it was changing elected leadership. It’s essentially bowing down and being taken over by the Writers Guild of America East. All of this is occurring at a time when it’s becoming more clear how much the Internet really disrupted media.
Everyone from Hollywood to the White House is confused about how to navigate this new digital world. While news media and entertainment media used to have clear boundaries, those boundaries are getting blurry.
Over 90% of the staffers at the Committee to Protect Journalists joined WGAE as well. I’m now working as an indie publisher, blogger, and writer completely unprotected (which was always true) in an industry that now has very good protections.
I’m not the only one that recognizes it – the staff at the Arizona Republic went public today about their want to join this union too. The problem escalated when a human resources rep for Gannet (the Republic‘s parent company) confiscated the work phone of reporter Rebekah Sanders, who helped organized the union.
Here’s a Facebook post she published September 3, 2019.
How did we get here, and what does it all mean for the future of journalism?
Amazon Killing the Publishing Industry
Mashable has a great article from 2014 about how Amazon destroyed the publishing industry. But Pete Cashmore’s growth from solo blogger in 2005 to becoming a subsidiary of Ziff Davis in December 2017 is a much more interesting perspective of what’s actually happening in publishing.
Amazon didn’t destroy the written word any more than Apple destroyed music with iTunes. The distribution model changed, and our perceptions certainly have with it. Fifteen years ago, names like Pete Cashmore, Phil DeFranco, and even Cenk Uygur didn’t mean much. But each of them represents different perspectives of the same “content creator v publisher” battle anyone from CNN’s journalists to Lil Wayne or Steven Spielberg has.
Like Tech N9ne at the turn of the century, many of today’s content creators know how to make independent content. The more of these indies that survive, the more competition there is, and many of us are playing for multiple sides.
I have multiple revenue sources keeping this blog up, including ghostwriting, content marketing, etc. All of that is done to keep the journalistic articles like this up. If not for the marketing side, I couldn’t have afforded the time and energy placed into it. And the market for any content creator is bad right now because of the gig economy.
Gigging in Media and Marketing
When I wrote this Cracked article exploring the intersection of media and marketing, I mentioned the tech editor for Time contacting me. She’s no longer working with Time and is now running marketing for some company out there.
The woman who wrote this ridiculous story about me in PR Daily is also a retired journalist who now works in marketing. These women sold out and left journalism to follow the money. Do not let them fool you. They know exactly what everyone else in this business does, which is that marketers have all the money.
Your only other options are marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr or content mills and content farms helping companies like Lifehack pretend they’re as relevant as Lifehacker. Numbers talk, so if they have the traffic, they can say whatever they want. But outlets like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Forbes, and others notoriously have traffic and platforms, but they don’t want to pay contributors.
When asked about such processes, these publishers will flippantly blow off the importance of compensating content creators on their platform. Meanwhile a content mill in Singapore or India will happily pay you $0.01 per word to write as much as your mind can handle. Your only other option is to self-publish, self-market, and work against the majors, which many of us do.
Because so many of us have taken so many routes for so little money, there’s bound to be problems, and the writers working for major brands are unionizing to make sure they’re not discarded in the process. While I agree with them in spirit and wish them the best of success (I do love unions, after all), I’m also exactly the person these people are unionizing against.
I’m living in Arizona, and I can’t get hired on at New Times, the Republic, or any of the publications here. When I tried working with SAACA, I got ripped off. I’m working alone with no money as a journalist and whistleblower. But more importantly, these unions are my local competition. I’m a part of the reason they’re cutting back, and I still have bills to pay too, so I’m only getting hungrier and working harder.
I have no healthcare. I have no vacation. I work 24/7 to save my own life.
So while I do stand with you all, I hope you all know that I will absolutely slit your throat (metaphorically) for your seat at the table. Because I don’t have a union, a rep, or anything but me…and I’m going into my 40s with a decade of experience under my belt and a lot of knowledge.
I want security too.