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Online journalists are the vanguard of union organizing in America

21 10 0
20.04.2019

Reportage. Across the Atlantic they are starting to build something that was previously unthinkable: union protections for the young, 'dynamic' and ultra-flexible multimedia creative staff.

written by Matteo Bartocci

April 20, 2019

The latest victory took place just a month ago. On March 15, for the first time in the company’s history, the 83 online journalists working for Gimlet Media successfully unionized. Gimlet is a Brooklyn-based company producing podcasts that are downloaded 12 million times per month in 190 countries worldwide.

In the new model of newsrooms exemplified by Gimlet—which was recently acquired by the streaming giant Spotify for $230 million—the roles of computer engineers, journalists of all kinds, social media experts, radio voice talent and video producers tend to blend together, their boundaries becoming blurred within a constant creative process of content production in which it is more and more difficult to distinguish the different job responsibilities of each.

In the United States, where there is no such thing as national contracts, collective bargaining is accomplished exclusively at the company level, and the workers must decide in an internal referendum whether they want to unionize or join an existing union to fight for their demands.

While in Italy the digital world is still an unregulated Wild West in terms of rights, wages and professional roles, across the Atlantic they are starting to build something that was previously unthinkable: union protections for the young, “dynamic” and ultra-flexible multimedia creative staff.

Since 2015, dozens of digital media outlets have managed to unionize, both large and small (more on that below): a progressive march forward that is hard to believe for us in Europe, where “precariousness” still runs rampant in both old and new media.

This development is all the more surprising if we take into account the fact that in America, the young digital “journalists” (in the widest possible sense of the term) are generally very individualistic, eager to develop their own “personal brand” and always looking to get better positions at more highly-renowned outlets.

The turnover for online newspapers based on both US coasts is extremely high. People come and go, in a climate of perpetual instability that is a function of large-scale choices in terms of algorithms, big data, and the increasingly direct involvement and segmentation of the reading public.

However, to quote Hamilton Nolan, a former reporter for Gawker, “a union is the only real mechanism that exists to represent the interests of employees in a company.”

It turns out that in this environment, the idea of unions is no longer some relic from ages long past. Somewhat surprisingly from the point of view of the corporate higher-ups, unions have become themselves........

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