Journalists think of themselves as workers

The wave of labor organizing in media that started in 2015 will fully boil over.

It’s not a surprising or novel prediction to say that the many crises afflicting journalism will continue to get worse. Private equity will continue to pick at the carcasses of once-vital newspapers. Diversity will continue to be a major challenge in newsrooms predominantly staffed by graduates of the same few universities. Trust in serious reporting will remain hard-fought, if it continues to exist at all.

What’s different is that, while these are big, structural issues, they’re also now felt as issues that affect the way journalists and other people in media do their jobs. For years, too many journalists have seen themselves as somehow distinct from workers. But even a public service is still a service, and even the most high-minded reporters still have to pay the rent — something that has become increasingly clear as industry conditions worsen.

Things have become untenable: Thousands of local papers have been bled dry, and the incessant rounds of layoffs now reach even celebrated, award-winning writers at major newspapers. Publishers may tout the civic accomplishments of their papers, but journalistic values of transparency and openness fall by the wayside when they’re applied to keeping bargaining sessions open. Allowing New York Times journalists to sit in on the negotiations that determine their pay, healthcare, sick leave, and more is, apparently, beyond the pale.

But as we’re seeing right now, even workers at The New York Times have been willing to walk out on the job to demand a living wage, affordable health care, and an end to internal racial bias. They’re joining striking colleagues at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and a suite of Gannett newsrooms.

With so many of these fights happening at once, it will become harder to ignore the collective nature of the problem — and the collective nature of the solution. In the same way that the National Writers Union and Freelance Solidarity Project have organized freelancers willing to stand with staff reporters, it will become harder and harder for even successful journalists at major publications to think of themselves as somehow distinct from their colleagues at local papers and in smaller newsrooms.

Everyone has been able to see these challenges for years, but even the most innovative solutions have still only touched a corner of the industry. 2023 will be the year that journalists, fact-checkers, copyeditors, producers, and everyone else in the newsroom will stand together en masse to demand — and win — real changes in their workplace.

Eric Thurm is a freelancer and campaign coordinator for the National Writers Union.

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